Chuck Wendig, Wanderers, and Process

I’ve been reading Chuck Wendig’s new book, Wanderers, and it’s a great read. I’m really enjoying it. His writing is good but it also reads easy. The ideas are interesting. And it feels strangely of the moment for a work of speculative fiction (maybe because it came out last week).

The tension in culture. The problems with our media environment. Government in paralysis. Cynical political actors. Gender identity. Right wing lunatics with swastika tattoos.

I’m not sure I’ve seen another author capture internet culture as well as Chuck does in this book. The snips he includes, from Reddit to Twitter to Instagram, are so dead on that they could only come from someone who actively spends time in online social spaces. The way the characters refer to social media is dead on. He’s in the culture, and can speak the culture.

One character I’m unsure of so far is the rock star. Writers seem to always struggle to write musicians that aren’t wafer-thin caricatures doing drugs, spouting rock & roll platitudes, and more or less living the Nihilist Way. Not sure if Chuck will be able to pull it off. It might be necessary for the character arc…so we’ll see.

But, as I mentioned, I follow him online, and his blog is a great read. He wrote an excellent post on what it was like for him to write this book. In it, he talks about the process of writing the book, and how the book dictated what the process needed to be, defying his expectations about how it would come together:

This book just didn’t conform to the way I thought I did things.

I don’t mean to suggest we’re not, in a way, experts at what we do. And I think we do need to sometimes trust the process. But sometimes we need to go beyond that, outside that, and trust ourselves more than the process. The process is not the book, and the book is not the process.

Books are gonna be what they’re gonna be. They’re gonna be as big as they gotta be and take the time that they need to take.

We all have process. But when you’re working with ideas and creative things, process usually has to take a backseat to the work itself. Because the work itself needs to be what it needs to be. Sticking to process can prevent that from happening. Like keeping a goldfish in too small a bowl will restrict it from growing to its full potential.

Learning in a Creative Setting

Sometimes I forget how much the Brandcenter can resemble an art school.

Most of our students have never experienced education in an arts environment before. And their biggest challenge is often letting go of concrete formulas and external signifiers of ranking. There are no right answers. No secret levers to pull, no shortcuts, no standard formulas … and you’ll never be finished learning.

Billy Martin, one of my favorite drummers, has a lot to say about teaching and creativity. This quote from an interview with Modern Drummer does a great job of illustrating the struggle and tension that a lot of our first year students go through.

I tell my students that I want them to push themselves when they’re in front of me and when they’re alone too, because they’re going to have discoveries about themselves. It’s not about winning or being the “best,” the fastest, or the most know-it-all. It’s about getting to know yourself. And pushing yourself to the point where you’re on the edge and making discoveries.

but does it float?

but does it float, one of the blogs I found through Kottke’s post full of people’s favorite blogs, is unlike any blog I’ve visited before. It’s a welcome break from the literal and analytical and fame-seeking and monetizing that makes up the vast majority of the 2018 Internet. No hot-takes or link-posts or pushy algorithms or sponsored suggested content featuring things that so-and-so just did to some other thing that you won’t believe.

The format: conceptual title followed by a few screens worth of images that appear as you scroll. The effect is hypnotic. Falling through a well of imagination and half-ideas. Your brain fills in the emotion. The interpretation.

I can’t recreate it, but here’s a screenshot of a recent post that does it no justice:

Screen Shot 2018 04 17 at 11 22 29 AM

Click through for the full effect: Truth suffers from too much analysis

Comparing Someone’s ‘On-Stage’ to Your Own ‘Backstage’

Patrick Rothfuss is not just a writer of fiction that I’m having trouble wading through, but he’s also a thoughtful person with a podcast that I really like. In one of his many discussions about creative work with Max Timken, he brings up the common problem of comparing someone else’s onstage work to our backstage. In other words, someones genius, refined work vs. our in-progress dumpster fire.

The presumption being that the perfect work represents the output of a perfect process. That the work being presented is so much more refined than the working drafts, frustrations and utter psychological mess waiting for us back at our workspace. Our own work is already a failure.

Social media brought this terrible feeling to everyday people, and boy does it scale! Here is where we present idealized selves to the world. We build the illusion of extraordinary, action packed, fulfilled, creative lives. We know it’s a lie, but sometimes it’s easy to forget. From experience, seeing this at 10pm, on hour-four of a colicky baby screaming in your ear, can be a tad discouraging (this is me being vulnerable).

What we don’t take into account is everything going on behind the scenes of that person’s life. To paraphrase Frank Beamer, nothing is ever as good as it seems or as bad as it seems.

Yes, there are people who are more talented and capable. But that doesn’t mean they just rolled out of bed and produced genius. Everyone has to work through the mess to get somewhere great.

Which, by the way, is also why the idea of creative agencies having a “proprietary process” is always complete nonsense, no matter what their new business deck says. Creative work is rarely clean, orderly, or easily replicated.