One thing I can say is that when I achieve flow in a short story or longer-form fiction, the last thing I want to do is open another tab and start blogging about it. I don’t want to do anything other than stay in the flow.
But no one is in always in the flow. It’s not productive to try. Stay in the flow as long as it’s flowing, but understand that your subconscious needs a break. You’re not at peak creative performance all the time. You need downtime and sleep and the daily demands of life. That’s not glamorous, but it’s true.
Don’t write drunk and edit sober. Don’t forget about sleep. REM-cycles are essential for the next day’s writing, and for bridging the brilliance of yesterday’s flow with today’s and tomorrow’s.
There are times when you can’t work on The Thing In Itself. But that doesn’t mean you can’t write at all. When the flow stops, shift gears. Dig out an old post and revise. Make it better. Re-share.
Read. Read short stories. Read books.
I’d suggest reading more than you blog, but if you have a family or a partner or a dog or a cat or a goldfish or parents or siblings or nieces or nephews or bosses or bills, you have commitments outside of yourself. Sometimes you can blog while doing other things (I do not mean driving). It’s much harder to read while your spouse watches Chopped. (You should also watch Chopped. It’s great.)
Blogging (or tweeting) does not mess up a writing life, but it needs to kept in perspective. Sometimes, it can help unlock the next round of creative flow.
Friend of the blog Jon Geeting shared my Free Market post from yesterday with some good insights and responses at his blog today. This is the kind of online discourse I really enjoy: people of good-will engaging each other respectfully across platforms. I encourage you to take part in the conversation at Jon’s blog, but I do want to share a small excerpt from my own response:
It’s fine by me that Rite Aid provides cheaper goods and medicines to Center City residents, and God bless them for it. But on the ground in Allentown, based on conversations I had downtown over the weekend, some civic leaders really are worried that it’s going to be hard to lure and place that kind of store in the near future. They’re not worried the same way about replacing the dollar store (which is also needed). Another question: why isn’t Rite Aid simply moving across the street or up or down a block? Why isn’t the efficiency of the market making it compelling for Rite Aid to stay in the city? And if Rite Aid won’t stay, why should we be confident that Walgreens will come? If the market worked exactly the way we wanted, there’d be no such thing as food deserts, or, in this case, prescription deserts, right?
For me, the immediate issue is also framed by the experiences some folks had at the three “arena open houses” last week. For months, people have been complaining about the lack of transparency that seems to be guiding the hockey arena project. Last week, open houses were held in which various stations were set up and the public could talk with city officials, developers, and the owners of the former Philadelphia Phantoms. One of the problems with this format, well-intended as it might have been, was that there was no chance for real public discussion. If I’m being cynical, I might suggest a sort of divide and conquer strategy at work. In any case, the Rite Aid concern came to me from downtown religious and civic leaders following these open houses, and they are worried. So am I. I’m not at a point where I feel confident that the market, as such, won’t create a healthcare desert in Center City.
The topic of my dissertation research is learning knowledge artifacts for HTN planning (decomposition methods) from annotated tasks and plan traces. Files and other information on this work can be found at the HTN-Maker project webpage. See below for related publications and other resources. My General Exam document would be a good place to start.
In addition to this primary topic, I am involved in a number of other projects related to planning, case-based reasoning, reinforcement learning, and computer games as part of the Intelligent Decision Systems and Technologies (InSyTe) Lab at Lehigh. I am also interested in pursuing other broad topics in artificial intelligence, including automated planning systems; classification, clustering, and other machine learning techniques; collaborative filtering systems, data mining, and web search; and heuristic music composition.
The humble Mr. Hogg refrains from mentioning that he plays the sickest bass this side of Flea and/or Les Claypool, but let me assure you that he does. Especially exciting to me is the recent news that Chad will be returning to our mutual alma mater, Ursinus College, as visiting professor this fall. Good job, Chad! And thank you for being the most faithful reader and commenter on the various iterations of this blog!
A few months into any Golden Age comic book archive, you’ll come across the origin story of the title’s featured character. Blogging, really, should be no different. Comics emerged from the frenetic, sensationalist media of the early 1900s, and blogs emerged from the frenetic, media-saturated lives of people living on the other side of a century that saw the best and worst communications innovations in human history.
Chriscocca.com started as christophercocca.wordpress.com in January of 2007. I used the Hemingway theme, and the goal was very simple: I wanted a place to share my publishing news. I was submitting to online and print journals for the first time and had some very early success at those venues (Geez, Brevity, and elimae being the most notable). Eventually I started blogging about craft, which really means I blogged about instinct. One thing I knew for certain was that there were still way too many people using way too many adverbs. To wit, a post from November, 2007, currently in the classified archives:
I hate adverbs. I loved them as a clever little kid, but that was before (insert your own defining literary experience here). Except joyfully, and only when used in reference to the way Uncle Feather flew around Fudge’s house and pissed off Fudge’s family.
I should say about word here about Uncle Feather. When I was 10 or so, my dad helped me write a book report about Superfudge, and we had a good laugh describing UF’s manic flight around the Hatcher kitchen with the world joyfully. First of all, joyfully is a pretty funny word, not because joy is funny, but because it’s kind of one of those words you save for big, important experiences. The thought that a myna bird would do anything joyfully cracked me up. Also, visualizing a myna bird joyfully flying around a room while exasperated keepers try in vain to bring him down, well, I don’t care how old you are, that’s a) hilarious and b) extremely gratifying.
I was writing a lot of terse, evocative microfiction in 2007, and my blogging style from those days reflects that. Eventually, I developed a fuller style, but it was still a very at-arm’s length approach. I don’t think I blogged for fun, even when I was blogging a lot about things that were important to me. But I suppose I thought writing wasn’t supposed to be much fun, either. I mean, this is serious business, after all, and I didn’t want people thinking I was some lamebrain goofball blogging about episodes of LOST and He-Man. My, how things have changed.
My love/hate relationship with blogging in this space went on and on and on. Last year I took a big long break to focus solely on my fiction, and I think was a good move for a few reasons: 1) It gave me time for fiction and 2) it separated me from the constant head-checking I was doing before every click of the WordPress publish button. I needed to get out of my head and into my gut, and I needed to say what I needed to say in ways that weren’t so tied up in my own personal narrative. There were great discussions happening on the blog by then, but all of the sudden I knew that if I was going to dedicate the kind of time and mental energy that a book would require, I was no longer going to be blogging about the ontological grounding of being (okay, okay, it’s God) for a while.
This year, I lightened up. I don’t know exactly why or how, but I have a few guesses. One thing I know for sure is that I started blogging more as soon as I finally designed a banner I really, really liked. When I started playing with the images and thinking of what to call this new welling up of whimsy, The Daily Cocca popped up from the suppressed creative places I’d been trying to cram other projects into. Simple as it sounds, a new banner and new layout energized me to have fun with content, to get out on the WordPress ecosystem and to make connections. Specifically, the picture of me as kid really makes me happy. Look at that smile. That kid is happy, fun-loving, and full of a million crazy ideas. That’s the kid who had the messiest effing desk you’ve ever seen, sloppy handwriting, poor time-management and every other awesome thing no one should really have to worry about as long as they’re young enough to wear a clip-on tie. Seriously, what was the deal with the clean desk obsession? If my desk could close, it’s none of your business. If it can’t close, give me a minute. No, no, I left that book at home. You should be happy…it’s not cluttering up my desk.
Side note: One time in elementary school the teacher was going on and on about something, and I started drawing awesome totem-pole-like doodles up and down the margins of my notebook. This was in a pretty early grade. We passed the books in and I didn’t think anything of it. A few days later, the teacher called me in from recess to talk to me about my doodles. I thought she was going to say how cool they were. Instead, she made me stay inside and erase every single one. I didn’t realize then what I stifling act of idiocy this was. I knew she was being stupid, but I didn’t relate it to this whole idea of feeling like you have to parse your creative side and intellectual side until recently. So let the 31 year-old speak now for the 8-year old who only wanted to draw comic books or play baseball for a living: hey, any grown-up who cares more about order than innovation, more about clean lines and desks than creativity, compassion, nurturing, sustainability and raising up kids into whole people: not cool.
Yeah, so the messy desk thing is sort of mantra for me in this sense: it means be who you are in each of the ways that matter. Write your fiction and your poetry as starkly (adverb!) or as richly (stop it!) as you want, and do your blog whichever way feels right. People are complicated, people have different interests, different modes, different ways of communicating in different circumstances and for different reasons. Why should you or I be any different?
Yesterday, I linked to a post on BookMunch about Stuart Murdoch’s new book of blogs. Will Fitzpatrick says that while Murdoch’s art is “existentialism through fiction, allowing his characters to project his worries and fears that maybe this life isn’t all we want it to be…. his blogs, on the other hand, are much more confident. Murdoch still tells stories, of course, varying from taking pictures for Belle & Sebastian album sleeves to his opinions on the Olympics. But this time, he’s the focal point. And he turns out to be much funnier and more confident than you might have imagined. That’s not to say that he’s arrogant; he’s still self-deprecating at times, but it comes from a man much more comfortable with his own sense of self than his lyrics would suggest.” Despite being a big fan of Stuart’s music, I’ve never read his blog. But it sounds perfect, doesn’t it? Since about the beginning of the year I have had this new, strange confidence in my voice as a blogger, separate and distinguishable from my voice as a writer of fiction or literary nonfiction. The realization that we’re allowed to speak in many voices compels us, I think, to start.
I’ve never had this much fun blogging, and I’ve never been this productive at it. I owe much of this to my teachers and peers in my MFA program, to the kid in the picture, to my messy desk, and to everyone who reads The Daily Cocca, everyone who comments, Jay and future guest posters/contributors, and all of you folks on WordPress I continue to connect with. Thank you!
When I hunkered down with fiction last year, I took many, many old posts off-line as a way of resetting my own internal narrative and focusing on a very different way of writing. I’ve talked about that a few times on this blog since. I had the sense that I needed to let the fiction I was writing say everything I was wanting to say, and it was a good choice for me then. Between now and May, I’ll be writing fiction more intensely than ever, but I’m also thinking about blogging (and nonfiction in general) in new ways. This year, I have the creative room (and patience) for both. See kids, getting older’s not so bad.
I was looking over some old posts to re-release today (digitally remastered in sweet, sweet mono) and I found this explanation behind the genesis of the LOST posters I shared on Saturday. Credit where credit is due: my wife was the inspiration behind that project. I also forgot that the creator of the Obama Poster maker website that I used came by to comment on the post. It’s funny how time flies and how quickly you forget things. Adjusted thoughts on aging: +1 for patience, -1 for memory.
I similarly found “What The Future Used to Look Like“. It started with the idea that terraforming the universe is our moral duty as creatures and ended up being a free-association/stream-of-consciousness thing about the politics of futurism.
When you have a minute, consider looking over your own old posts or journal entries and see if you don’t surprise yourself. What were you writing about this time two years ago?