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Jay Lake
Date: 2012-06-08 05:35
Subject: [process] Creativity comes in all shapes and sizes
Security: Public
Tags:conventions, music, process, steampunk, writing
I've been mulling over some other aspects of my delightful weekend at World Steam Expo. Specifically, I've been thinking a lot since that convention about how the creative process works for differently for people in different creative fields, and in turn, how that might inflect my own writing.

Watching the League of S.T.E.A.M. from up close was fascinating. Likewise talking to members of Abney Park and Steam Powered Giraffe, as well as watching the other bands, troupes and performers there.

In simple terms, what I saw was creativity expressed as a tightly interactive process.

The creativity of writers of print fiction is very much an internal pursuit. We work alone, usually in privacy. Even writers who collaborate generally do that serially rather than through face-to-face interaction. (As I understand it, this happens differently for the script writing staff of television shows, so it follows that the solitary work pattern is not universally true of writers. Journalism, to mention another counterexample, is arguably an interactively collaborative process in another sense.) Creativity runs silent and deep for people who write novels and short stories and poetry.

By contrast, the creativity of actors, at least in the context I saw at World Steam Expo, was absolutely a participative, iterative process. The League of S.T.E.A.M. were in character much of the time, even when they were not out in public. When not in character, they were thinking and talking about character, or performance, or script, or costuming, or props. They live their parts, moving in a literal swarm of multidimensional creativity. Likewise some of the other performers. I never saw Spine from Steam Powered Giraffe out of his makeup all weekend.

As a writer, I live my parts, the stage being inside my head. But that stage and its creativity are contained between the privacy of mind and the interface between my fingers and my keyboard. Like I said, a profoundly internal pursuit.

I found myself feeling very envious of the League of S.T.E.A.M., of the other performers and musicians. Watching that ongoing performance and creative exploration made me wish fiction writers could work collectively. It made me wonder what fiction writers could do if they did work collectively.

What would it be like to pull half a dozen writers together in big room and actively, verbally brainstorm a story from conception to completion? Sure, we sit around and talk about ideas sometimes. Sure, we consult one another on technical or plot details. But what would it be like to live our way through that process? Participatively, iteratively.

It's not that I think the current process of writing is broken. I don't, not at all. It's just that I received a glimpse into a different process. It's a new toy, and I'd love to try that out.

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User: joycemocha
Date: 2012-06-08 13:09 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I've done some minor pieces of collaborative writing as part of work. It's an...interesting process when done by non-writers.

One particular writing curriculum I work with has extensive scaffolding pieces which are, essentially, collaborative writing projects done by students and the teacher together. Done right, it can be an excellent means to teach student writing.
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User: cathshaffer
Date: 2012-06-08 15:17 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
I do think that would be a fun and effective way to write a book. You get a peek at it in critique groups, where often a fresh viewpoint will turn up good ideas for the story. But in critiquing, it's frowned upon to "rewrite" another writer's story. I do it anyway, because I've found on occasion some very good ideas when people have done that for me, but I always feel guilty and apologetic for it. It would be interesting to let that impulse loose, without giving one individual veto power over everyone else's ideas. When a single author offers a book for critique, it is very difficult for that person to receive ideas without becoming defensive, and often they reject ideas that would make the book better. Not to say that a single author and a single vision are not good, but that a collaborative process would probably be interesting and effective and have its own unique advantages.

A story, especially novel-length, requires hundreds or thousands of ideas. Coming up with those ideas alone, serially, is a huge labor, and that is responsible for much of the time invested in writing a book. Getting a group together would decrease the time needed to generate all of the ideas to fill a book. The trade off would be you would probably give up having a specific, identifiable "voice" to the storytelling, particularly a quirky or unique voice.
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User: a_cubed
Date: 2012-06-08 15:21 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
There's a book about Service Oriented Architecture called "Mashup Corporations". One of my colleagues has always wanted to do a (non-fiction) Mashup Book. What you're talking about could be a fiction Mashup Book.
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User: elizaeffect
Date: 2012-06-08 15:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yikes, I tried to post a link to the Big Idea piece on the Mongoliad, which I think was pretty much exactly this concept you're describing, but it was marked as spam. Google it, I guess? Maybe it's not exactly what you're looking for but you could hit up Stephenson and Teppo and the rest for more insight on how they made it work and how you might set up your own writers' room. :)
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2012-06-08 16:23 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Gee, it's too bad we don't both live in an exciting metro area crammed with science fiction and fantasy writers who are always interested in trying something new, or else we might try it out some time.
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Jay Lake
User: jaylake
Date: 2012-06-08 17:34 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Yeah. Really. I mean, who do *I* know who'd want to do this?
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David D. Levine
User: davidlevine
Date: 2012-06-08 21:07 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Let us discuss at JayCon the complete absence of such people and when they might get together and do it.
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russ: lyles constant
User: goulo
Date: 2012-06-08 16:41 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Keyword:lyles constant
This makes me think of:

Pair Programming


Axe Cop

... :)
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Kevin Roche
User: kproche
Date: 2012-06-08 17:49 (UTC)
Subject: (no subject)
Jay, I have to note that I've certainly experienced that sort of interactive creativity with you -- the Order of the Purple Fez at BayCon in 2005, and the grand Toast conspiracy at Westercon 60 were both group creative improvisations that took on a life of their own.
What I'm trying to say is we don't have to behave as "actors" to engage in that sort of delightful live-action jam, and I've done it *with you* on several occasions.
(And I'm speaking as someone who actually performed as an actor at Dickens, Renaissance and Old San Francisco Fairs)
I've done the hall-character schtick; these days it's ramped it down to my infamy as an "Evil Genius" which lets me play all those parts I used to be so serious about without having to create a persona other than my own wicked self :-)
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