Thursday, January 12, 2017
One of my high school English teachers (shout to Mr. Winthrop!) once said that the books we were going to read that year were on par with humankind's greatest achievements in any sphere, including the pyramids.
I was reminded of this comparison when I recently traveled to Teotihuacan in Mexico and climbed the Pyramid of the Sun. Not only are great novels truly singular achievements, but my trip got me thinking about the extent to which writing a novel is... sort of like building a pyramid.
You work so hard for so long... and that's just to finish the base
The base of the Pyramid of the Sun is so big (see above) you can't even really get it into one photo unless you are very, very far away. It's 720 feet long and 760 feet wide!
Can you imagine the immense amount of work it took just to do the first layer?? It must have felt amazing to begin such a lofty promise... and then it took a ton of work... and when that first layer was done, they must have known they had an incredibly long way to go.
And that reminded me of the first 50-75 pages of a novel. You're psyched! You're going to write the greatest novel of all time! And then you get started. And it takes so much work. And even when you get that initial base going, it almost feels impossible how much is still yet to be written.
Everything is building toward the point of the pyramid
All of those stones, all that work, builds on itself toward the capstone on top. Or, I guess in the case of Teotihuacan, the altar, since the top is flat.
In your novel, it's all about that climax. Every metaphorical stone you put in place should lead to a very satisfying conclusion. Sure, maybe people will notice the sides of the pyramid, but their eyes are always going to go upward.
Finishing is deceptively hard
One of the best things about finishing the first layer is that no other layer will be as big and wide. Every layer after that is going to require fewer stones. But... the farther you go, the higher you have to lift.
This reminds me of ending a novel. On the one hand, you're so close! You can see the end! You're really going to finish the novel!
But in reality, it's so hard to get that ending just right. With all of the different plot threads unfolding, every chapter toward the end feels far more difficult.
Sacrifices will be made
Many of the Mesoamerican pyramids were consecrated with human sacrifice. In the case of the Aztec Templo Mayor, those may have numbered somewhere in the thousands.
And yes. You and those around you will make sacrifices along the way.
But when you're done, you'll have something to marvel at forever.
Monday, January 9, 2017
|Hi! I've been traveling. Also I'm on Instagram here: @nathanbransford|
So. Where were we?
Thank you for bearing with some quietness on the blog front as I traveled around the holidays and restocked my zombie-proof survival bunker for the year ahead. (Just kidding. But then again maybe I should have...)
I have a Pyramid of the Sun-sized collection of links for you. Let's get to it!
So that HBO show Westworld came and went and we haven't even really talked about it have we? What did you think?? Have you figured out who the Hosts are amongst your friends and family? Do tell in the comments. Meanwhile, Writers Digest used the show as inspiration to talk about how the idea of Cornerstones are useful when thinking about your fictional characters.
Goodreads revealed its Readers' Choice Awards in several categories. Congrats to all the winners!
If you had Patti Smith on your "Who will accept Bob Dylan's Nobel Prize for Literature" Bingo card, congrats, you win!
In "Um how did they get a book deal again" news, there was quite a controversy in December over the book Bad Little Children's Books, which was a compendium of (invented) offensive children's book covers, which Claire Fallon at HuffPo rightly called out as indeed offensive but also unfunny.
And this other unfortunate person that the media for some reason insists on calling a "right wing provocateur" got a book deal from Simon & Schuster sparking some talk of a boycott but frankly I don't want to give said individual any more publicity than he has already received and think silence would be a better punishment so yeah NO LINK FOR YOU.
In other news, Fight Club (the novel, not necessarily the movie) is being embraced by people who seem not to be grasping its message, even as it appears more relevant than ever.
Alan Burdick has a great rumination on time in The New Yorker.
Dominique Matti has a great rumination on self-publishing while broke on Medium.
And speaking of self-publishing while broke, Maria Konnikova wrote a great article on the secret formula of resilience, which has what I think is an important message for writers. In a study of resilient kids, the ones who succeeded embraced as much control as possible over their destiny.
And speaking of articles that aren't about writing that still reminded me of writing, the band OK Go reflected on what made their viral videos go viral.
New interesting blog alert! My mom pointed me to this blog about a woman who is pursuing a dream of opening a bed & breakfast and blogging about her reflections along the way.
This probably deserves its own post, but Buzzfeed's Tasty cookbook was sold exclusively through a single site... and it's one of the bestselling cookbooks of the year.
And you know that old maxim "show don't tell?" Well, that goes for queries too.
In books and politics news, Sophie McKeand writes about the serious question facing writers today: speak up or be silent? (via Julia Forster). And there was another post over at LitReactor that took the opposite tack and suggested being silent about politics, which generated quite the discussion on Twitter, but that post appears to be no more.
And in politics-politics news, certain members of the far right have been expelled from Twitter. This is where some of them are going.
Ta-Nehisi Coates reflected on what it meant to have a black president.
With all that has happened these past few years, have we given up on tech optimism?
And still struggling to make sense of what happened in 2016? Here are some psychological studies that help explain the election.
No Comment! of! the! Week! as I have not been posting consistently, but do keep those comments coming for future awards purposes!
And finally, in what may be the most important article of 2016, if not the decade, io9 reflects on what Jones the cat is thinking in these incredible Alien promotional posters.
Have a great week!