On Process

by anna

A couple of years ago I did a residency at the Roberts Street Social Centre in Halifax.  I lived in a shed (that one) and tried to write.  In the end I didn’t write a lot of fiction, but I did obsess over the process of writing itself, and why I was having such a hard time with it, and wrote mostly on that.  Not stuff like how do I get ideas or create characters or advance the plot or how do I describe the ineluctable modality of the real, but the process of creating form, or something like that.  (Though I guess that’s what describing the ineluctable modality of the real is, isn’t it.)  Here’s some of what I wrote:

“How can writing actually make you lose your mind:  there are infinite possible ways of saying anything, any one thing can be said an infinite number of ways.  Each choice is a foreclosure on another pathway and subsequent possible other cruxes/choices until you’re backed into a corner and get eaten by a cat.  (HOLY SHIT I wonder if that’s what Kafka is talking about in that parable.)  Let’s attempt to work through this.  Somewhere in between infinite possibilities of beginning and the zero-axis of no possibility/END there is something called a “flow.”  Which is generally agreed upon to be desirable, and from which the majority of art ensues.  But to reach that “flow” you have to take very careful steps, like you have to construct this kind of perfect staircase in order to get there, or else you’re fucked.  How to begin with a structure that will lead to “flow” or even the possibility of “flow” when you have no idea from whence that flow will emit?  It will emit from wherever you start, that’s the really terrible part.  So the important thing is to start and it doesn’t matter where?  I guess, but nevertheless the feeling that there is a right way to tell something persists, or just the thought that every structural and stylistic choice made early on will result in completely unforeseen results, unforeseeable results, which is a way in which writing is like weather.  People live with weather though, and people live knowingly or otherwise with this exact same kind of structure framing the conditions of living without losing their minds.  So maybe I’m just being a sucky baby.

Maybe the key is to not think of it like a linear/line but like a matrix.  That is to say that each decision leads not to one logical next step but a bunch of nodes from which it’s possible to make any number of choices.  You are never backed into a corner as long as you continue to move two-dimensionally (at least) on a plane.  Any previous decisions affect the ones to come after but not in any kind of deterministic or foreclosing way.  I.e. this whole little ramble here opens up certain possibilities which can be followed or ignored but doesn’t actually cut off the potential to like get somewhere good.  Whether or not it increases the likelihood is as yet unknown.

The problem with this is that at each node you are faced with any number of possible directions, which requires being in a near-constant state of readiness and/or cleverness and/or inspiration needed to make the right choice EACH TIME.  Which is kind of a refutation of “flow”, wherein choices proceed naturally from each other, seemingly without conscious thought or decision.  Which process is not something I want to give up or cede right now.”

Do other people get driven crazy by this kind of thing too?  How do you deal with making decisions?  Sometimes shuffling a deck of cards gives me a panic attack, because I think about how every cut is changing how the deck will come out forever, infinitely.