02 May 2012

The Dusty Shelf, Brain Crack and Moleskines

I have a dusty shelf full of half-finished ideas.

There's S.L.R, the Sad Little Robot who was to become a graphic novel. There's my home automation project in pieces, strewn about my tiny apartment. An adventure game I started making from scratch in which I foolishly/heroically tried to model pre-war Berlin down to the last brick.

There was solar-powered model Zeppelin, a solar-powered iPhone charger. There's a half-finished wooden clock I designed myself and a violin case made from sheets of bent cherry plywood that I modeled in Sketchup.

There's one half-finished quartet score to the great Jazz standard "Jealousy" and two half-translated French-Canadian songs and fiddle tunes mocked up in garage band...... the list goes on.

And we haven't even talked about writing yet.  As we speak (ok, I'm doing all the speaking) I'm sitting on over 40 half-written draft WordPress posts. 40! I wonder if admitting this puts my sanity into question.

And down the rabbit hole we go. In the past two weeks I've added two major web projects onto my poor, overloaded shelf marked "Someday when I have time". I feel that I must be reaching some kind of limit. The only time I seem to get anything done is when somebody with a hot poker in one hand threatens to cut off my coffee supply if I don't just fricken' finish something.

Prepare prepare prepare reprare rerprareerearar....

Here's how I play chess, starcraft and life. Take notes because I'm going to tell you how to beat me.

  • Phase 1: Make the wall. I ignore you completely and spend all my starting resources (pawns, zerglings, etc) making a wall. This wall will keep you out unless you rush it while I'm still building it.
  • Phase 2: Reinforce the wall. Make it impenetrable. Build, reinforce, patch. I'm still ignoring you.
  • Phase 3:  A long boring stalemate where I play 100% defence. This will last until I'm sure of ten-to-one odds of defeating you.
  • Phase 4: I Win the game.  I emerge from behind my wall with my giant army horde and ........hey, you're leaving already? But it's only midnight and I was about to.....
It occurs to me the now that why am I playing a game at all if I'm not willing to risk a little offence or acknowledge the human player sitting across the table.

Projects are no different. The wall is everything I need to get started. I convince myself that if only I had a golden pencil, a leather-lined Moleskine notebook filled with paper made on the Amalfi coast, Scrivener for Mac, a barrel of bard-bandying monkey typists, free time. When I have a week off and india ink flows in fine black rivulets from my golden pen onto a cotton writing pad; then will I write the masterpiece that will do justice to my glimmering glittering ideas. Except.....


Why does truth hurt? I think it only hurts when it's a vastly different temperature from what's in your head. Truth is an ice-cream headache for your soul.

So what is today's truth?

  • I don't need fancy (or any) shoes to run.
  • I don't need a silk canvas to paint on
  • I don't need a week of uninterrupted free time to develop an idea
  • The tools needed to write amazing prose are somewhat simpler than I want to believe:
Oh, and the big one: My ideas aren't that great, that brilliant or that deserving of golden pens. They won't make me rich, famous or taller. All these ideas are doing is inflating inside my brain and threatening to rot and turn toxic when they inevitably ferment into...

Brain Crack

Brain crack is the infatuation with an idea more than the thing the idea will become.  You spend more time writing your oscar speech than your screenplay. You're defending your avant-guard masterpiece to imaginary critics before you've even bought the marble slab. Alone, in your head without predators, critics or nay-sayers, untested and impossible stands your idea; inflating like a giant hot-air parade float until the size of the thing makes it unrecognizable from whatever neuron fart spawned it in the first place.

Witness is a prerequisite to beauty and nothing in your head can be beautiful until others can see it and give it the chance to first be hideous. You need to let it out, imperfect and vulnerable into the world. You need to stand back as it gets bashed around by the reality and gravity and CBC comment trolls.


I could (and others have) made/make/maken this blog solely by re-quoting Ze Frank, who I have  been aware of but now has become my own personal hero.

The ideas need to come out. They will probably be terrible but I'm ok with that. If they're proven to be  terrible then they'll be out of my head for good.

There's not enough room on my dusty shelf for bad ideas and brain crack.

Filed in: Writing  

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