The Impermanence of All Creations.
The editor’s notes sit in my mailbox. Waiting for me.
Three years ago I started putting together a rulebook for my perfect tabletop roleplaying game. A companion for the UVG road-trip adventure.
A roleplaying game is a strange thing. A kind of folk art practice, mixing improv theatre and dice and games of dialogue and chance and papers and pencils and amateur creativity. Writing a roleplaying game is a strange thing. It’s like pretending to make a script for an improv theatre production to be enjoyed and changed in the comfort of the players’ hearth and imagination.
It is also a work of dynamic literature. Like a theatre play, a poem, or a piece of oratory, it is a half-work, that comes to life in the performance.
Now, I write this aside to set the context for this post. Three years ago, I started writing a big thing.
But, when I started writing it, I did not know it would be big.
I thought it would be small and simple.
But as I wrote it, it did not want to be pinned down. Loops of chance and action flew away from me, uncoiling, demanding a broader brush, a thicker coat of paint. Rules offered tempting edge cases and weird exceptions. Characters demanded more space. The layout unrolled away from me. The art wanted to break free.
So, I decided to take an ornate minimalist approach. A fancy phrase I coined to describe what I was doing.
I realized that to build and write the book I wanted to write, I had to create the block of marble first, then chisel away the parts I did not need to leave the structure I had in mind.
But the block was so big! So marvelous, and sturdy, and solid. So much work trapped in word and art.
I fell in love with the block.
Now the time has come for editing. For sculpting and chiseling away.
Faced with the task of discarding so much of my work, I was afraid. I received the editor’s feedback and decided to explore my feelings first. What I wanted to achieve with the editing and why I felt the way I did.
Writers are advised to kill their darlings, but this is harsh. It places the responsibility for art-murdering and work-killing on the artist.
It also assumes they are darlings, or that the artist can know what is perfect and what is not.
Observing my feelings, I realized there were four.
- Sloth. To touch these words again? To unpack them once more? To return to those places again? To do this work again and more?
- Fear. What if, in returning to these words, I find them bad? What if I am as bad an artist as I fear? What if I am as bad as I read some critics say?
- Pride. But these are my words. They must all be perfect, they must all be saved.
- Sadness. What of the time I spent? The effort made? Was it all in vain, if now I cut and cut away? Will they be lost forever, once I put them aside?
Underlying the four feelings, like a current, was a sense of struggle against impermanence.
I made a thing, why must it be unmade, changed, carved?
As if a Hephaestos made a mountain, then wondered why the rivers must come undo his work; carve canyons and gorges, create rainbow-splintering waterfalls, wide-brimming lakes, undulating plains and marshlands, as they carry the mountain to the sea.
I had to make peace. That the orogenesis of the book was over, that now the time for erosion was here.
But it is hard to accept erosion.
I went to see a monk and shared my quandry.
“Publish 60% of what you have made, keep the rest on the side for others in other times.”
The suggestion stunned me, at first. This was far more radical than anything I would have suggested to myself. But I sat with it and looked at my work, and the realization dawned on me that it was what I had had in mind all along.
But as I had built my block of marble, I had started to think that my task was to build a block of marble, rather than to provide the structural support to carve out what was within.
The cut away parts are like whitespace. There for those who look. Not there for those who do not need them.
And, in a way, it is also a liberation. If 60% of any work are enough, they also apply to my editor’s work. I can’t (and shouldn’t) accept all the notes. 60% will be enough.
Time to get the chisel and the mallet, the eraser and the word-carving knife.
Before you go … in these weird times (October 2022), when the Russian dictator and war criminal Putin steals Ukrainian land, rains death and rape on a his victims, and threatens nuclear attacks against those who resist his brutal military schemes, I am sharing two ways to help his victims.
- Mriya Aid: https://www.mriyaaid.org to send supplies and aid.
- Patron the Demining Dog: https://www.patreon.com/patron_dsns to help remove the lethal mines left in Ukraine by the Russian army.
You can also follow the demining dog Patron on instagram: https://www.instagram.com/patron_dsns/.
For peace, against war.