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Jay Lake
Date: 2010-09-14 05:51
Subject: [writing|process] The definition of insanity
Security: Public
Tags:process, writing
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results."
    — Rita Mae Brown (often misattributed to Albert Einstein)

Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is also the definition of parenting. Kids don't learn on a smooth curve, they progress in stairsteps. The same child that acts out in a restaurant or has a candy tantrum at the grocery store will eventually stop, if you work hard to deal with those problems. In the mean time, you still go to restaurants and grocery stores because that's part of life. Each time expecting a different result, regardless of prior experience.

Eventually you get a different result. That's called growth.

Building a writing career works pretty much the same way. Otherwise none of us would survive our first handful of rejections. I had over three hundred before I sold a single story. Was I insane to keep sending out, and expecting a result different from continued rejection? Apparently not, though since that first sale I've had almost fifteen hundred more rejections, and almost three hundred acceptances.

Unless you're one of those rare people who can explicitly and consciously self-direct your learning processes (I'm certainly not, and off the top of my head I can only name one person who is), almost everything about professional fiction writing, especially in the pre-published and early-career phases, seems to fall under this rubric. You write drafts with flawed characters, critiquers and editors point this out to you, so you write more drafts with more flawed characters. Then one day you write a good draft where the characterization is solid. Your next handful are wobbly, then you get another good one. About then, the feedback you get shifts to complaints about your endings.

Developing as a writer is a game of pound-the-peg. And the peg-pounding part is a process of repetition with expectation of change. My advice? Be insane, just be insane with feedback and effort at self-improvement.

Post A Comment | 14 Comments | | Link

User: jimvanpelt
Date: 2010-09-14 13:15 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Great post, Jay. Very succinct.
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User: pingback_bot
Date: 2010-09-14 13:17 (UTC)
Subject: Insanity and Writing
User jimvanpelt referenced to your post from Insanity and Writing saying: [...] Drop by  today to see his nicely perceptive thoughts on insanity and writing [...]
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barry_king: equus
User: barry_king
Date: 2010-09-14 13:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Right. I'm off to the post office again. Thanks.
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User: fjm
Date: 2010-09-14 15:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
See today's posts.
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User: twilight2000
Date: 2010-09-14 15:19 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results is also the definition of parenting.

*snerk* there's a lesson in there somewhere ;>
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User: torreybird
Date: 2010-09-14 15:27 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
The role of insanity in pursuit of growth is vital for me to keep in mind.

Today I celebrate a daughter's 18th birthday. As I continue to figure out my day-job, and work away at writing fiction - in short, as I keep trying to become my best adult self, I need to remember that she's got her own marvelous insanities of young adulthood coming up - and that my modes of parenting need to keep up with her modes of learning. Still, and again.

I predict it will be a crazy day - if we're doing it right.

Thanks for these thoughts, Jay!
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User: keikaimalu
Date: 2010-09-14 16:00 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Nice post, Jay.

My problem with that definition of insanity is that one could apply the same principle to bending a thin piece of metal back and forth, over and over, in the crazy belief that eventually, it will break.

Thing is, it will.
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calendula_witch: arms
User: calendula_witch
Date: 2010-09-14 16:12 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
This all makes very good sense (as we've discussed), but when it comes to that other thing we were talking about, I fear the piece that's missing is the learning-and-progress piece. A child will grow, will mature, will learn. A writer--if they're trying at all--will practice, will incorporate that feedback, will try to do better and will most likely improve. In my yoga practice, I work on things, I master new skills, I may eventually be able to not hit my heels on the floor on my jumpthroughs. But that other thing? If there is progress there, I am not seeing it. :/
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erudite_ogre: Ogre!
User: erudite_ogre
Date: 2010-09-14 17:04 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes, best advice since "plant yer ass in the chair and WRITE!" Which sounds a bit insane when you think about it. . . .
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Kari Sperring
User: la_marquise_de_
Date: 2010-09-14 17:47 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I can learn by example, but where I fail is confidence, which can't be learned (by me, at least) and which I find hard to counterfeit. This is one of the many reasons I enjoy your blog so much: you provide a wonderful insight into process and its interactions with personal psychology. So thank you.
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User: tsennyipa
Date: 2010-09-14 20:57 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Calendula_witch, work on increasing the time you spend in utpaddihī (the one where you're in lotus and lift yourself up with your hands) and you will see an improvement in your jump-throughs. Weird, but true.

As far as doing the same thing is concerned, neither of the activities you've described strike me as repeatedly doing something that doesn't work.

Taking the child to the restaurant works. You get to go to a restaurant. It's simply orthogonal to the child's maturation process. Children eventually mature whether or not you take them to restaurants.

Submitting work over and over again works, because you aren't doing the same thing each time. If you submitted the same work to the same editor over and over again, that would be doing the same thing, and would be insanity.

Continuing to try to do something in an iterative learning process is not insane, even if you aren't systematic about it. As you say, you get better at it over time even if you aren't systematic. You may never get good enough to sell anything, but that doesn't make trying insane.
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User: zachariahskylab
Date: 2010-09-14 22:36 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I think Einstein gets many mis-attributions... he's kind of taken over Oscar Wilde's position as the most misattributed English speaker.
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User: (Anonymous)
Date: 2010-09-15 06:06 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yes. This never sounded like Einstein at all. And it isn't even true!

/bemusedoutsider = bemused_leftist/
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slweippert: Me July 2010
User: slweippert
Date: 2010-09-15 06:24 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:Me July 2010
Good post. I'll re-post it in my LJ. All of us writer types need to know this.
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