Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Cult of Chomsky

In college, I certainly knew the name 'Noam Chomsky', though why I knew it, I wasn't sure. I worked security, patrolling the dark, deserted halls and subterranean passages which made the campus a labyrinth of shadows and half-heard sounds each time night enclosed it. My fellow denizens of the twilight realm included my nemeses: hobos, bike thieves, wall tagging skateboarders, drunken hedgebound copulators--and also my allies, my kine, those fellow security personnel who waited out the long shifts at their desks.

So I flitted from one to the next, patrol this building and visit one, then moving on to the next, spending a little time with each before returning them to their isolation. I still recall walking down a dim and lengthy hallway and hearing a clipped, minute voice echoing down it, reduced by boombox speakers to a buzzing, inhuman tone. When I arrived, my compatriot made to pause the recording, but I held up a hand and asked "what's this?"  

"Noam Chomsky," she replied, "the world's most famous intellectual".

Friday, January 18, 2013

Originality and the Fount of Inspiration

Last time, we talked about the source of creativity, now let's look at what I mean by 'originality'

Muse at Mt. Helicon
When I'm judging the quality of something I have read (or even something I have written), I find I have to contend with the idea of 'originality'--what is it that makes something original, or unoriginal? Is originality even a desirable trait for an author to have? Is true originality even possible?

Certainly, we might construct an extreme argument and say that, since all human thought comes from what we learn, from notions that have inspired us, that therefore, every idea has some source and hence cannot be considered 'truly original'. If we defined 'original' as 'something that springs fully-formed from nothing and is not related to anything that came before' then no, there could be no original thought. But it is silly to define originality as some impossible severing of man from influence or history, when in fact those are indispensable parts of the crucible in which original ideas are formed.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Creative Barriers: Where Good Ideas Come From

Sinatra-Fighting, Jellybean-Hating Old Cuss
All writers get asked the question "where do you get your ideas?" Even nobodies like me hear it. It's become a cliche among authors, to the point that Harlan Ellison started telling people that he writes to a 'fine Idea Service' in Schenectady, New York, which, for a modest fee, provides him with new ideas upon request.

But of course, the very question misunderstands how the brain works: ideas don't just descend from nowhere, there is no store of them sitting out there, untouched, just awaiting discovery. Ideas are forced into existence by sheer necessity. Whenever you wonder how someone 'became so creative', it might be beneficial to sit back and ask yourself what 'creativity' actually means. To say that someone is creative means that they are capable of coming up with novel solutions to problems. When they are confronted with something that needs to be done, they find a workaround. This means that, in order for us to be creative, there must be some sort of conflict staring us in the face: there must be some conundrum that needs solving.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

What Makes A Good Writer?

As you may or might not have noticed, my Goodreads profile contains the somewhat confrontational statement: "No author who rates their own book five stars could write a five-star book". It's something I get asked about with some regularity, along with the question 'how can I become a good writer?' Luckily for me, my job is rather simplified by the fact that both questions share a common answer.

Now, I'm not claiming I am a good writer--indeed it's very humbling when people choose to come to me and seek advice--but I have spent quite a bit of time reading and thinking on the topic of becoming a good writer--in hopes of getting there, myself, one day--and it's hard for me to think of an act more directed at becoming a good writer than writing to other writers about the properties of good writing as I understand them.