Ending the Debate on Debate

Debate and discourse are important in a republic such as ours. I’d never want to squelch it.

But on a personal, individual level of argument, I wonder if it ever makes any sense.

Some people enjoy arguing a point for the sake of arguing a point. I used to be that way for some things. Once in a while, I still am. But these days, I ask myself if there is even the slightest chance of impressing upon the other person the need to change their mind about a solidly held belief? Am I really going to unlock a lifetime of experiences and perceptions if I “talk good?”

Almost certainly, the answer is no.

Study after study indicate people rarely change their mind based on an opposing argument from anyone, let alone from someone they meet at a party, or Bob from accounting who always chimes in on foreign policy in the break room.

It holds true on the internet as well. Set aside the rampant presence of trolls, I only say something on a message board, a blog post, a Facebook thread about once out of a hundred times, and even then just to satisfy my desire to see the other side represented. But it’s pointless, and I know it is.

True forensic debate, with rules and a moderator, and even better, a jury of some kind to decide on which side “won” by means of a better presentation of the evidence is just about the only kind of argument I think can be “won” these days. Maybe it was always like that, I don’t know. I do know that when I debate with someone I know is wrong, (and whom objective stats or science proves is wrong as well) there are a million and one ways to move the goal posts, and slip out of any straight jacket for them…because the objective is to hold on to their position, and not to debate well.

Also, to be blunt about it, sometimes I think of an argument about something, even is relative civility reigns, and I say “who cares?” If it’s a public, political issues of some kind, I have my view on it, and not one single thing about reality will shift by my perfect debate, my imperfect debate, or by engaging in insults and buffoonery. What exactly is solved when one “wins” an argument? How is a winner determined anyway?

Plus, if I am to argue at all, I want to make sure I have facts in my corner. I don’t go around starting arguments as so many people do, for the sake of it, and I’m not inclined to take the time and the effort necessary to research an entire topic so as to be able to debate it with intelligence. (Something that other person is almost never willing to do either, though many I’ve talked to would not think they had to.)

Basically, unless you get a chemical rush of some kind from arguing about something, I think debate among those who simply have an opinion, (and no influence on the topic) is a waste of time about 90% of the time. The odds are even worse if it’s a debate about things which can be neither proved nor disproved.

Carrot, No Stick.

I’ve mentioned a few times that this year has been sluggish for me in the short fiction writing department. My major projects, (the novel of any given moment, and once in a while a play script) have proceeded on schedule for the most part, but the shorter, smaller things had been too few and too far between. So much so that my  yearly goal of short stories written for 2016 was intentionally lower than that for last year.

Even this goal was looking unlikely.

Until one of my friends suggested we become writing partners.

Now, I am well on my way to my modest goal of short stories for this year, and have every reason to believe I will even pass it. All because we check with each other once or twice a week, to set a goal for ourselves, and to see how the other one is proceeding.

I am happy to report I have made my quota almost every week since we started this. The week I didn’t, I was just a handful of words shy by midnight on the final day. Had the Olympics not been on at the time, I would have gotten that one done as well.

What happens we one of us misses the mark? Exactly nothing. All carrot and no stick, in this set up. But it’s been just enough accountability for me to get some stuff done that I otherwise might not have started with as much fire. She’s not going to stop talking to me if I don’t make it, but I also want to make it because she knows of the attempt. Not that I think I’m impressing her by simply doing what I’m supposed to be doing as a writer anyway, but the short congrats from her at the end of the week is basically worth getting on with things.

I’m no Stephen King; I don’t write 5K words a day. But my goal has been the same for most of the time during this partnership, 2,000 words into a short story, or less than that so long as the story is complete.

I must say in all fairness that she too has almost always made her own stated goal for the week. She may have made it anyway, but this whole thing was her suggestion, and people don’t generally suggest things that they don’t think will be useful.

She has read an critiqued one of the stories, and her comments were helpful, but sharing the writing between us is not a requirement for this system. (Though I will probably share more in the future, as I don’t regularly talk to that many writers on a friend level, if you can believe that.)

So, if you are feeling like your not pulling the weight you ought to be pulling with your work, see if you can get a writer friends to keep your goal safe for you in their head, and who will gently check up on you sometimes. It could do a world of good for your productivity, as it has mine.

Of course, you may prefer a drill sergeant style, and that’s okay too. As I often say, whatever gets you writing.

In the Hole or Under the Waterfall?

In baseball, being “on deck” refers to the very next batter, after the current batter is no longer batting. There is a more unofficial term for the player that’s two batters away from action. They are sometimes referred to as being “in the hole.”

And the one coming up after that player? Though literature is scarce on this term, I did hear this position referred to once during a broadcast as being “under the waterfall.” I can’t independently confirm how recognized that term is, but it will serve my purposes for today.

Of late, I find myself considering ideas for a major project, a novel, that may be not only in the hole, but as far removed as under the waterfall.

My next novel is Project Beta (working title) which I’ve mentioned here recently. I have edits and revisions to make to it for at least several months now. That’s the current project. That one is on deck, no doubt about it. (If you’ve lost the metaphor, a novel is “at bat” when I publish the thing.)

Normally during the mid-to-late revision stage of one novel, I’d allow myself to at least take notes, or even scratch out an outline on the next. I don’t like doing too much on one novel before the first is complete, it happens sometimes. Yet this time, despite several ideas, themes and characters taking initial shape in my mind, I don’t know if it’s to be my “next” novel. I don’t know if I’m at a place where that novel should be in the hole, under the waterfall, or even further into the future.

For one thing, it feels like it could be a literary novel more than my usual genre piece. Project Beta is already more literary in some regards than my previous work, but this future project would be even more so than that. Do I want to go literary that deeply, so soon afterward?

This concept I’m pondering could potentially require more words than I’m used to. It might not, of course, but it feels like it would be a longer one. I don’t know if I am in a place, mentally, spiritually, or time wise for a piece of such length to come next in my line up.

Also, though I’ve not officially decided on what my next novel will be (in the hole), I have had a backdrop of one in mind for most of this year. The irony is, the structure and theme, though not the plot, would be similar to this other novel I’ve been talking about. To write both would probably be redundant to me as an author, yet aspects of both appeal to me.

And if I pursued this novel at any time, I sense I will need more quiet than I generally have required for my work so far, and for longer periods of time.

I was also giving consideration to going the traditional route at first for whatever novel I put “in the hole.” Longer, literary fiction from an unknown is not at all a wise route to find an agent.

Yet I see it unfolding over the last several weeks. I’m sure things would change a bit as I actually wrote it, but a rough map has appeared. (Based, I admit, on an ancient story, as is the other novel I had in mind.)

And of course, all of this is based on the assumption I will write this novel at all, ever. (Though as time goes on, the more certain I feel that at some point I will.)

But will I write it next?

Tinkering.

Sometimes you have to. Every few weeks I have been doing so with my original one-man stage show, The King is But a Man.  I sadly haven’t found many chances to perform it beyond its 2015 debut. Plus, with my changing schedule and other projects, I’ve not has as much time to rehearse it in private as I would like.

I got to the point a few month’s ago whee I wondered if there wasn’t something I could do to improve it. It took me over a year to create in the first place, and I’d never flush it’s overall premise. But I got to thinking that if despite having no immediate “gigs” on the calendar to perform it the show hasn’t demanded, insisted, screamed out to be rehearsed in private on a regular basis, that there may be some aspect of myself that is unhappy with some aspect of the show. I asked if there was anything I could in theory do to the show to make it more exciting even to me.

In a few small areas, the answer was “yes,” and hence the tinkering.

Adjusting and reconsidering aspects of a show that very few people have ever seen is not easy. The easiest thing of course would be to leave it as it is, get back to rehearsing it exactly the same as always, and try (and try and try) to find somewhere to perform it. It would be one thing if I had the resources and network to have well-attended previews, and maybe some talk-backs, I’d have some momentum to adjust things. As it stands, I have only my only satisfaction and interest as motivation.

Yet we need that sometimes, as artists. We have to be willing to look into what we’ve created and ask if it truly satisfies who we are, and if not, if anything can be done about it. A novel, once completed, is generally a done deal, as are most “final” written products. But art itself is always changing, always reacting, always requiring an openness, and a refusal of dogma. As disappointed as I am with the outer success of this show so far, I am trying to at least embrace the opportunity to prove once again to myself that even our own work deserves an open mind from us.

Writing and the Olympics

The Rio Games are underway. I wonder which sport is most like writing?

There are word sprints, of course, which many people find quite useful to their process. I’ve never been much good at them, but their popularity cannot be denied. So for those people at those times, writing could be said to be like track’s sprinting events.

Unless of course you are one of those who say, (and say and say and say, because it’s a well-used expression), “writing is a marathon, not a sprint.” And truth be told it is, more often than not, at least when working on a novel. Whether you self publish or go for an agent, there is nothing fast about writing, editing, revising over and over, and bringing it into existence as a marketable product. I have to remind myself of this sometimes, and it’s taken me years to get a bit more comfortable with the idea of a marathon. (Writing kind, I’d likely collapse and die if I attempted an actual marathon. No, I won’t train for one with you, sorry.)

Equestrian events come to mind. Those who think the can sit down and make a novel, or a short story, or any amount of their writing obey their bidding without any effort are almost as foolish as those who think they can mount a horse and insist it do anything and everything it is told, like a machine. I’ve known enough “horse people” in my time to know that the personality and tendency of the horse must be accounted for, or at best the rider will do poorly in the event. At worse, the rider will be thrown off into the dust.

There is a reason they are called “riders.” It takes two independent life forces working together for the ideal result. “Rider” even sounds a bit like “writer,” one who also must tame the muse, ride the powerful animal that is creative moment, trying not to fall off or get kicked by it-showing patience and coaxing a performance out of it when things are a little tougher along the way.

Writers spend most of their time just treading the proverbial water, and it can be exhausting. All the while they must be ready to wing a shot towards a goal, when the opportunity presents itself. Staying still results in sinking below the surface, and we know what happens after that. Therefore, is water polo an apt metaphor for the writing life?

If you’ve written more than two things in life about which you cared, I don’t even need to elaborate on how wrestling is a damn near perfect reflection of writer problems.

Then again, so is platform diving, wherein a human being stands high above a pool and takes sometimes a flying leap out into the air, with mere seconds to get under control before slamming into the depths.

Archery requires concentration, relaxation and calmness, confidence and guts. Dead-center perfect shots are always the goal, but only occasionally the result, even from the top players on the planet. Rifle and pistol events have similar skill and temperament requirements. Are these the ideal writing metaphors?

If you’re always chasing a concept or idea in your writing, perhaps trap shooting, with its flying clay disks streaking across your perception for only a moment is more apropos.

Or, like a shot put, do you find ideas heavy, laying up against you as you store energy to put them out into the world, having to do a bit of a shuffle, letting out a bit of a grunt or scream as you at last shove your creative burden out away from you some distance before it is measured by others?

Then there’s modern pentathlon. Never heard of it? That’s not surprising. The founder of the modern Olympic Games himself came up with it, and almost from the very beginning it has been unpopular with both audiences and the Olympic authorities. Points are accumulated by each athlete as the compete in brief competitions of  fencing, equestrian, swimming, pistol shooting and running.

Modern pentathletes toil in obscurity, even among other Olympians. Their exploits and triumphs rarely make the news in this country. The glory of the sport is usually contained to personal triumphs.

Even the medal winners in this odd sport remain anonymous to the world in most cases.

Those medal winners usually excel in two or three of the five events, get by in another two, and are, frankly, deplorable in one of them. Their strengths must make up for their weaknesses. Those who are excellent in all five disciplines are rare individuals indeed.

So let’s review this event for a moment. A struggle often ignored by the public for being not sexy enough-it requires competitors to be at least adequate in multiple skills-form partnership with a powerful entity, be quick and skilled at striking with weapons while avoiding strikes from others, keep afloat despite fatigue, stay on target and call up reserves of endurance in a final run to the finish.

Oh, and even if you succeed, most people will  never have heard of you, ever.

If this concept does yet sound familiar to you writers out there, you are either very lucky, or very new to the craft.

So then, is modern pentathlon the perfect Olympic metaphor for writers?

No. It’s close, but as I’ve shown you, all kinds of sports in the summer games have parallels with the writers life. In fact, all of them probably do in some way or another. Can you think of more?

But the best metaphor in this case is probably the Olympics themselves. Writers train, practice, want to give up. The usually don’t win medals and only even have a chance for glory every once in a while. Yet just being in the arena, with all the others, most of whom will never reach the podium is something they value. Something they must learn to value, or quit.

Most of us haven’t quit yet.

 

 

 

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