Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chasing the Wind

One of the things you do in the preliminary stages of writing a major work of any kind is outline.  I know, one hears stories of a Stephen King sitting down with a wild hair one Sunday night and "just seeing where we go", or the writer who wrote his film a weekend. (I think "Little Miss Sunshine" has a story like that, in fact.) But whether any writers actually can kick out the Lord of the Rings without a roadmap, most screenwriters don't. We spend days upon days, weeks upon weeks, months upon months trying to get the story right, start to finish.

And as I was working on my outline today, I discovered something : each successive outline is like the work of another generation of explorers, providing greater clarity and definition to the world, yet also provoking new questions, too, demanding deeper and deeper layers of detail.  It can be a bit of a funhouse mirror experience, actually, or a trip down Alice's rabbit hole, each new answer opening up into further questions.

It makes me think, maybe the most foolish errand is the pursuit of finality. There's a reason we don't find finish lines much in the wild, and that's because they're artificial, they're humanly created. If I clean out my inbox today -- a quest I have pursued many times -- the satisfaction lasts only until the next email, the next invoice. I can clear away my piles of books, dust off my desk -- but without fail, they will creep back.

Which is not to say, let's all live like slobs! (I've seen that movie; it doesn't end well -- or smell well.) It's more about deciding to do what we do because it has some meaning for us, rather than because we believe it will somehow free us up in a more than temporary sense.  It just won't.

I can look at my outlining and say, now I'm done and be disappointed.  Or I can say I'm in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, on a journey, and each new outline is an opportunity for discovery that much deeper. And suddenly it's not a race, it's an adventure.