We treat symptoms a lot of times in the modern world, without tracing root causes and what is really causing the problem.
This isn't new information or a startling insight but it returned to me last night when I meditated on healing on injury. The symptom is in the knee but was it the knee giving me issues? And if so, which part of the knee was it? I ended up meditating on the problem knee and its host leg and the myriad of places and issues it could be. This is the shotgun approach of trial and error, hoping by accident that you'll find and fix the root cause without ever knowing what it is. Lot of people apply antacids, aspirins and other pain killers in this approach. People who work on pre-1990 vehicles might remember doing the same with fixing cars. Try cleaning the plugs, checking their gaps, checking the distributor cap, points and rotor, keep changing, checking, and tightening things until the car starts.
My thinking tends to weave one thing with another, so I naturally went back to computer issues, since I had one this morning -- what's new, right? -- my Lenovo's fan was running continuously -- why? Tracking this through the computer and the intertubes is problematic because it can be so many causes between hardware and software, and deciphering the symptoms itself can be a problem. Software companies like to blame each other, and the hardware company likes to blame the software companies.
Likewise, I took the thinking to my work this morning. We cope with stocking levels and service level agreements, and their costs. There are so many variables to address but the finance masters often apply one solution to the whole shebang, causing many individual problems. I went on to define and write up all these variables in a fascinating, elegant, complex diagram. I'm speaking for myself, of course; no one else has responded to it. I, however, think it's great.
After killing the morning on that, I turned the same thinking first to government -- Congress doesn't work -- it's the Republicans -- lobbyists -- Democrats -- liberals -- Tea Party -- and had a good laugh, thought briefly about the economy before letting that go with a little grunt, and headed for novel writing.
I've concluded, as a beginning novelist, that I'm trying to treat symptoms to fix my novel. Four paramount symptoms speak to me: one, it's not done, two, it's complex, three, it's my first novel, and four, I just finished reading a book I enjoyed.
As the novel isn't done, it's hard to gauge how good it is, especially since I'm in the middle of resolving character and plot issues, along with side plots, let alone syntax, descriptions, pacing, plotting, et cetera. It's simply premature to think, I give up, this is crap, or this is the best novel ever written. I have moments believing the first off and on, although I never embrace the idea that this is the best novel ever written. While I may be talented and capable, there are tens of thousands of brilliant novels out there. I'd just be happy to finish it and have some readers enjoy it.
The fact that it's complex is my choice. I enjoy life's complexities with the ironies, absurdities, puzzles, mysteries and rythms these complexities create. I love the broad sweep of existence and history and delving into the small moments on which great moments have hinged, and I like mocking how certain we are in our knowledge of what has happened and what will happen, as though life is a tableau of statues.
Sometimes, though, the complexities, because they most be boiled down and explained without killing the reader with detail overload, end up exhausting me. The concepts seem great -- everyone is not human although everyone looks human, and some know that everyone isn't human while others are oblivious, and even true humans don't react the same way because of the nature of their creation, for example -- but getting that into the story, keeping it straight in my head, and ensuring everything passes the bullshit tests, gets daunting.
Which feeds the third symptom, that this is my first novel through which I'm driving toward mindful and complete writing, revising, editing with the goal of finding an agent and publication. I've written other novels. They, too, were complex. When finished, they needed editing but the lure of a new idea, a new book, took me away.
And I let that happen again and again. The cause of this is that editing and revising a novel is hard work and was new to me. I simply didn't want to do the hard work. I like the easier work of writing rather than editing's cruelty.
But the pressure pushing it all out into a volcanic explosion was that I just finished a wonderful book, "Swamplandia!". It was the writer's first novel. So many neat things were captured in that first novel. Wonderful descriptions, vivid settings, a unique and intriging plot with multiple sub-plots an threads, memorable characters.....
The author, Karen Russell, has been identified as one the best new talents out there. Many have put it on their short lists for 2011's best books. So, yeah, when I'm working on my unfinished first novel, I became intimidated by how well my first novel might stack up.
So I fell back into self-pity and self-destruction.
Then I started hunting, what can I do to fix my novel? I pulled out a few of my favorite books on novel writing to peruse them for weapons to take to the fight. The thing is, I was looking at the wrong fight. There wasn't actually a fight there. It's just part of the novel writing process for a human novice like me.
Now, two things occurred, that have re-assured me that, yes, I might be a hack but it's too early to judge so just keep writing -- don't give up, perservere. One, as I read "Swamplandia!", I was struck by a shift in the middle. I don't know how many non-writers who read it might notice it but there was a definite change in the writing style in the middle. As I read through that novel's part, I thought, this part was written first. I think she went back and wrote the beginning later.
Now I don't know if that's true, but when I googled Karen Russell later, I learned the piece that struck me as the first piece written was published as a stand-alone short story in 2010. Maybe it's a coincidence.
The other thing that made me feel a bit better was Ms Russell's response when asked, "How long did it take to write the novel?"
"Two years, and then another six months or so of neuotic revisions."
So I feel better now, for the day, for the moment. As we used to say in the military, press on with pride.
Causes Michael Seidel Supports
Kiva, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Propublica.org, Doctors Without Borders, GreaterGood.com