The system is DOWN – At the beginning of the year I launched an experimental project called The Workshop. The idea, as I explained at the end of that day’s entry, was to provide a place for me to put writing-in-progress—not so much as a showcase, but as a way to keep me accountable. In other words, a way to get me to write more than I have been. The new “dynamic online Workshop notifier” (henceforth to be known as DOWN) not only provides you with an easy way to see if anything new is happening in The Workshop, it also encourages me to write more often. “Nags” would probably be a better word than “encourages,” actually—I think of it as a meticulously calculating extension of my conscience.
What’s that? You have no idea what I’m talking about? Ah, well, please direct your attention to the menu at the top of this page. Directly below the menu (where the color scheme buttons are) and on the right edge of the page is a small white box with a “W” in it. That’s the DOWN. If the “W” is currently light blue, that means that I’ve posted something new to The Workshop in the last twenty-four hours. If the “W” is gray, I haven’t.
Are you ready for the nifty part? Try hovering over the icon with your mouse. Go ahead, it won’t bite. Pretty cool, huh? I made sure I installed the DOWN on the local version of Liminality (the version on my system I use for development and testing) as well, so whether I’m remote or local I can just hover over the DOWN and see how long it’s been since I’ve posted something. It’s like having a little guy sitting up there—a goatee-sporting, black turtleneck-wearing, chain-smoking caffeine addict who’s always just one cup of espresso away from going absolutely postal—constantly tapping his feet and glancing at his watch. “Hey! It’s been 68 hours and 32 minutes since you’ve written something new. Get with the program!”
OK, so maybe that makes me a little neurotic, but whoever said writers were normal? In fact, if you consider yourself normal, you can just forget being a writer. Oh, while we’re on the subject, I just have to share this with you—it’s from the ongoing translation of my prof’s history of Korean literature, but it just took me by surprise, and I think it’s great that he wrote this. By way of background, this particular passage deals with the attitude of the poet in modern Korean poetry: “One might think that poets would develop unhealthy dispositions if they stopped being leaders and spent their time torturing themselves. ... If they had to live healthy lives, though, they would have to give up being poets.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I love that. When I read that, a huge grin spread across my face. There is just something inherently unhealthy in the creative process, something approaching self-destructiveness. To write is to torture yourself for the sake of art. It’s a scary thing if you think about it, but it also makes me giddy. I guess you have to be somewhat masochistic to engage in any creative work.
But that was a little tangent there, and as interesting a topic as it is, I think I’ll save it for later, when I’m feeling more sick and twisted than I feel right now. As I was saying before I so rudely interrupted myself, the DOWN has been keeping me on my toes. I try not to let more than 72 hours (three days) pass without posting something. I considered having the DOWN display days in addition to hours and minutes, but it’s actually far more motivating to see the time in hours. If you start getting into days, you run the risk of growing complacent. “Three days? Eh, that’s OK. Maybe I’ll get around to writing something tomorrow.” 72 hours, on the other hand, sounds like a lot more time, and the chain-smoking DOWN fairy really likes to throw large numbers at me, among other things.
It would seem that the DOWN fairy has been effective: in the twenty days since I launched The Workshop, I’ve posted 6 WIPs (that’s “Work In Progress,” in case you weren’t paying attention up there. Yes, it is acronym day here at Liminality—you didn’t get the memo?). That comes out to an average of a WIP every three days (well, not exactly, but it will if I post something tomorrow), which is pretty good. In fact, it’s very good when you consider that I post about once a week here when I’m on a roll. It almost makes me want to put a Liminality notifier on The Workshop. I can’t really think of any spiffy words that end in “ln,” though (“kiln” is the only word I can think of offhand, and it’s not really all that spiffy), and everyone knows that you can’t launch a new product/project/idea without a spiffy acronym.
The nature of The Workshop, though, makes it easier to post there than here on Liminality. I made a few decisions from the outset that have helped greatly. For one, while my Liminality entries tend to be on the longish side (I honestly have no idea what my average word count is, but I’m guessing that it’s somewhere between 1500 and 2000 words), I decided to not put a lower limit on my Workshop output. Most of the pieces I have posted have been between 500 and 1000 words. But I’m also free to post a 5k-word piece, like I did yesterday. There may be days when I’ll post a hundred words. Who knows? It’s just nice not to have to write a certain amount.
Another big help was deciding not to have any archives. Like I mentioned before, The Workshop is more of a motivator than a showcase, so there’s really no need for archives. That takes even more of the pressure off, because I know that when I post something it will be there for a few days at the most. That frees me up to post stuff that might not be my greatest writing. Another advantage is that it makes the structure of the site a lot simpler—in fact, it’s only one page. Since I don’t have to save and organize content, I was able to whip up a simple web-based form that allows me to overwrite the current content quickly and painlessly. So not only is it easier on my pride, it’s also physically easier to post. It’s hard enough to write regularly as it is—the last thing I need are obstacles to the process. Kind of sucks for people who might want to read every word I post (yes, I’m talking about you, Mom), but hey, those are the breaks.
Perhaps the hardest decision I made when setting up The Workshop was the decision not to comment on my writing. I simply post my writing and that’s it. There have been times where I have desperately wanted to comment, but I bit my tongue. Actually, I hopped around the house like a kangaroo on crack, but different strokes for different folks, as they say. The important thing is that I have managed to resist commenting on my writing so far, and I’m pleased to report that it’s getting easier as time goes by. At least that’s what I’m going to keep telling myself.
I asked myself recently why I felt such an urge to comment on my writing. Actually, I was writing an email to “that David guy” about his success in resisting comment on his own writing. In a previous email I had completely torn apart a story he had posted to his website, and afterward I felt a little badly about doing so, since he had elected not to comment on that story when he posted it. So my second email was to tell him that I thought it was great he was just posting writing without commenting on it, and I didn’t want him to feel that he had to defend himself from criticism in advance by commenting. After I finished writing my little speech, though, I realized that I was projecting my own thinking onto him.
If you haven’t read the email exchanges (and you most likely haven’t, unless you’re that David guy), the above might not make much sense, so I’ll put it plainly: I realized that I feel the urge to comment on my writing because I feel that I have to defend myself from criticism by beating the critics to the punch. It is a manifestation of, in a word, insecurity. I suppose this is why some people recommend not showing your first drafts to anyone. With no one else to worry about, you can really let yourself go and not worry about the consequences. In my Workshop writings I have let myself go, and as a result I’ve found myself worrying about what people might think. I mean, I know the writing sucks, but it’s much more painful to hear someone else say it.
The simple answer, of course, would be to not post my writing on the internet for the entire world (cough) to see. Yet posting on the internet feeds my masochistic streak, and though I may grit my teeth and punch things, resisting the urge to comment on my Workshop writings is a very soul-purging experience. Then again, I have yet to be flooded with emails telling me how much my writing sucks, so maybe I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Anyway, I just wanted to take a little time today to write about The Workshop and some of the things that have been going through my head. You’ll notice that I have studiously avoided actually comment on the writing. It might be a bit silly to comment on commenting on writing, but there you have it. I’m going to cut this one short, as my 5k-word day yesterday kind of wore me out. Don’t forget to check out the DOWN if you’re in the mood for some unpolished, possibly crappy, but always heartfelt writing.