Sunday, April 12, 2015

Draft Mania

I seem to write as many drafts as I post.  Not necessarily a bad thing, but I wish I posted more finished pieces.  As is, I definitely show a pattern of distraction, especially after certain number of words.  I seem to lose interest in my own piece, as I do everything else, after a short time.

We live in an ADD culture.  Our attention span shorten at the same pace the speed of computer chips grow.  We lose interest in history, in the real sense of the word, events and people that lived long before us, 100 years or so in the past.  We shrug our shoulders, sip on our Starbucks, and bow our heads to the gods who live within our phones.  Increasingly, we lose interests and recollections over events occurred in our own childhood, ten years ago, yesterday.

There is a certain assurance that all are safely recorded in computers.  The memory and patience we used to posses has turned digital, the ability to follow a map, to calculate long divisions, to read a complete novel from start to finish, to decipher the heart and mind of another human being, to make a connection.  Instead, we speed through things, dialing, driving, dating.  Courtship smells of mothballs, repressed carnage of a bygone society, and plain-o time wasted.  Why invest the time? Who has the time?  Doubling up on quantity, at the speed dating tables and drive through windows, we pat ourselves on the back at our new found efficiency.  Of course things will fall apart at times.  It must mean, we conclude, we need to double up yet more on quantity. 

Commerce responds accordingly.  TV producers tricks up the mechanics of setups and payoffs in shorter and shorter intervals, to maintain audience engagement through the obstacles of commercials, episode breaks and the itchy fingers of channel surfers.  The Internet follows suit and defines a 3 second rule.  If your site hasn't grabbed my attention within 3 seconds, you are out.  The web surfer has clicked on and checked out of your site without leaving so much as a thumbs up, or down.

Books trudge their feet slowly behind this trend.  Slowly but surely.  The hook is a way to grab reader's attention within the first page, the first paragraph, the first sentence.  Without that, you are not going to sell.  Unwittingly I fell trap to this as a reader, trained to become engaged within the first page or give up.  When I finally return to my favorite classics, I can't grasp what the author is trying to tell me through long sections of background stories.

But some favorites has a stronger pull than others.  Though I flip over a few pages at times, I inevitably get hooked and read through those time tested stories.  The boy comes home one day, finding pages of my story rewritten to include a suspense filled opening, commented, "you sold out."

"What?"
"You are doing a popular style beginning to hook people in."
"You mean, you actually like the original? "
"Way better. It was real."
"Well."  It is not like me to be short on words but I stop myself from blurring out the first one.
"It feels like you are just trying to be popular. Make money, be famous."
"No. I haven't thought about that. Good books open with a hook though."
"I've been reading the classics.  They just begin with the basic information."
"And you like that?"
"Yes. I think it's better."

He left me speechless.  We've been reading "To Kill a Mocking Bird", "Moby Dick" and the likes, and he is right.  There are no noticeable formulas among the giants that stood against the test of time.  Yet it is tough to walk into a writing workshop without the teacher telling you to hook the reader within page X, and do this at page Y.

Here is the formula, some of them passed page marked outlines everyone shall follow.

Nothing wrong with that I suppose.  But staring at a sheet like that simply makes me sweat, rather than spurring my creative forces.  Maybe it is just me.  Except it is not.  Writers, real writers, as many of them need free form creativity as ones write outlines or occasionally outlines against formulas.

I suppose time will tell, 100 years from now, assuming books, literature and stories in any written form remain relevant, whether our great great great grand children will laugh or follow suit, at the hook and formula method of writing sweeping across our literary landscape now.

Or perhaps we will revert back to paint glyphs onto cave walls. That sounds like fun too.

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