"Whatever works" is not the same as "anything goes", and other insights.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/22 08:00
You have to actively look to understand what methods of writing work for you. I don’t care if it’s exactly like mine or something I think is ridiculous; if it works, for you and good works get made, fine. As long as it’s not unethical, go for it. Being a writer means actively understanding what helps you write better. Take the time to review methods, study theories, and try stuff out. In time, you’ll get better – possibly in ways you never expected.
All this reminded me of something. I dug back into some old notes and found a few pointers that seem relevant here.
Creative motives matter.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/21 08:00
At one point in an interview, David Fincher talks about how he wanted "a reason to make a movie, not an excuse to make a movie."
“You have to worry about your own work and ignore what everyone else is doing.”By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/20 08:00
Feynman virtually dove across the room to show me the notepad on which he’d been anxiously doodling while I read. There he had written one word, which he had proceeded to illuminate with drawings, as if he were working on some elaborate medieval manuscript. The word was “Disregard!”
“That’s what I’d forgotten!” he shouted (in the middle of the night). “You have to worry about your own work and ignore what everyone else is doing.”
Richard Feynman always struck me as a good model to emulate, both for his humility and good humor and for his best practices. I've written before about his habit of keeping crucial things in the back of the mind and letting them bubble up as needed to stimulate inspiration on crucial projects. But I like this bit of advice as well. Worth drilling into, since it also seems easy to misinterpret.
A few notes about creator's personal voodoo.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/19 08:00
Philip Pullman (His Dark Materials et al.) apparently has some ritual sorcery associated with his writing routine:
Arranged on [his] desk are various objects of mystical significance. “I write more easily, more comfortably, with less anxiety if I’ve got my various magic bits on the table,” he said. The magic bits consist of a piece of scientific apparatus used in the search for dark matter, a magnifying glass and his “special pen.” Pullman has three special pens — Montblanc ballpoints — one in his study, one in his bag and one on the table downstairs for letter writing and signing books that people bring to his door (“which sometimes happens”). There is special paper, too: “I started ‘His Dark Materials’ on the sort of paper you could get 30 years ago, A4, narrow-lined, with two holes. Then they started making paper with four holes, and I discovered I couldn’t write on that.” He acknowledged with a brief apologetic glance the lunacy of this statement.
Most writers, and most creative types in general, have some degree of personal mysticism or fetishism (not in the erotic sense) associated with their work. That inspired me to look around and take some notes about what I cling to and insist on in this workspace:
On the devolution of Zen into a bad joke.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/18 08:00
I mentioned back during my discussion of Zen And Dinking Around With Bikes And Stuff how one of the things I hated about the book was how, almost without trying, it trivialized Zen in particular and Buddhism generally. I don't blame the book specifically for that. It's more like the book was one manifestation, one of the most obvious ones to be sure, of the way Zen and Buddhism have been turned into bad jokes.
Why the morality-play view of personal responsibility is bogus.By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/16 08:00
THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH WRITING CODE OUTSIDE OF WORK. But I no longer consider it, by far, a reasonable expectation in a hiring context. What changed? I came to realize that a expectation of sustained free labour was a horrible criterion. It dawned on me that it’s ideas like this one that’s responsible for much of the mess we’re in. I’ve now come to view that view as symptomatic for the brokenness of tech. So what do I think follow from that expectation? It excludes anyone not in various ways privileged enough to have substantial free time that can be spent practicing or contributing, for free. That excludes a whole lot of people that aren’t young and from fairly well off backgrounds. It excludes those with other hobbies and/or families. It’s an expectation that essentially forces emotional and household labour to be taken up by a significant other. What seems like selecting for “passion” ends up being selecting for privilege. ...
What the meme of the midnight oil burning, all-night-pushing ever productive coder ought to signal, apart from being a reflection of our love for lone hero mythology, is that many environments are not conducive to learning, does not provide a challenge. It’s also virtue signalling, it’s taking what’s actually a joyous delight and trying to frame it as something moral. ...
True passion then prioritize self-care, knowing that it’s consistent effort over time that matters. Not that spikes of furious effort and heroics aren’t useful. They are, and at times they’re necessary. But passion gets up each morning, goes to work and realizes that the journey continues tomorrow. Passion arrives rested. Passion takes the long view.
First emphasis theirs; second and third emphases mine.
Among the many pieces of advice given to aspiring creatives, one of the most annoying is the idea that only people who care about their chosen creative thing above all else in their lives will find success in it. This isn't advice; it's an incarnation of survivor's bias.
“The premise is not ‘I have you what you need, let me give it to you.’ It’s ‘You have what you need and we’ll find it.’”By Serdar Yegulalp on 2017/10/15 08:00
This piece is worth an end-to-end read, but I want to chomp out these bits and focus on them.
... Miller argued that counsellors were having precisely the wrong kind of conversation with their clients. Addicts were caught between a desire to change and a desire to maintain their habit. As soon as they felt themselves being judged or instructed, they produced all the reasons they did not want to change. That isn’t a pathology, Miller argued, it’s human nature: the more we feel someone trying to persuade us to do something, the more we dwell on the reasons we should not. By insisting on change, the counsellor was making himself feel better, while reinforcing the addict’s determination to carry on. ...
Implicit in Miller and Rollnick’s critique of traditional counselling was the uncomfortable suggestion that counsellors should turn their professional gaze upon themselves and question their own instinct to dominate. Instead of thinking of himself as an expert sitting in judgment, the counsellor needed to adopt the more humble position of co-investigator. As Miller put it to me, “The premise is not ‘I have you what you need, let me give it to you.’ It’s ‘You have what you need and we’ll find it.’ The patient must feel “autonomous” – the author of their own actions.
For the first year or so when I studied Zen Buddhism in a serious way, as opposed to just reading about it, I took the time to learn about the difference between Buddhism (and Zen) as it was actually practiced vs. the pop-bullshit version of B(&Z) that everyone thought they knew. It was ... well, I was going to say enlightening, but that's the easy joke. It was sobering, is more like it.
Science fiction, rebooted.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind