Writing about a collective

The problem with writing draft blogs ahead of time is that I look at them later and don’t want to post them anymore. Or perhaps that’s a good thing–gets out the bad stuff–I’m not sure. Anyway, here is a blog post I wrote at the beginning of the month. I’m not working on this book anymore at the moment, and I totally reconceptualized it in the interim, but I think the most is still interesting.


Blog – writing 

Hello friends, hope everything is going well for you in this nightmare existence.

An editor reached out to me some time ago about writing a book based on my literary criticism, so I wrote a proposal, and now at some point in the future I’ll have a book go to the academic press version of acquisitions, which is exciting. I have no idea what publishing an academic-press type of book entails, but I imagine it’s a surefire path to fame, fortune, and influence. I’ll probably be on a presidential commission of some kind soon.

I’ve been feeling anxious and envious and unhappy, but what else is new? Lots of things I’m not doing. I usually send in short story submissions a few times a year, and then gradually collect rejections until finally I shake off my inertia, record the rejections, and send them out again. At this point I think having a lot of dangling threads is just part of my process. As long as every day I’m doing something, I feel like it’s an accomplishment.

Lately I’ve been writing a sci-fi novel, which has been fun. The big thing in sci-fi is hopepunk, about hopeful post-capitalist futures where everyone is gender-diverse and polyamorous and happy. I tried to write one of those, but obviously it didn’t work out, because I started actually thinking through some of its implications. This has also gotten me doing a lot of reading (right now I’m reading Marx’s Capital, I’m reading Errico Malatesta’s essays, and I’m reading some of Marx’s political writings). And of course when I read things I get new ideas, and then I have to rewrite what I’ve written. Some writers would just do the reading and then do the writing, but I feel like if I’m not writing, I’d have no desire to hurry up the reading, and I’d get distracted and read something else.

Anyway, the people in my book are half-educated, like most people, so if there’s some book that would apply to their situation, but which they haven’t read, then…they just haven’t read it! Their collective is jury-rigged, like most things, and full of problems, like most things. 

It’s very fun, but more work than I’d thought it would be. We’ll see how it all turns out. Every book I have to relearn the same lesson, which is that it’s much easier to write a book where people have some collective interest that binds them together. This naturally serves as an organizing principle for their desires and their actions, and it naturally allows you to organize them into antagonistic relationships, based on their differing approach to that interest.

Basically, it’s a lot easier to write a book about a member of a football team than it is to write about the member of a company, because the football team has a collective interest in winning, which binds them together, whereas the company has no collective interest, it’s merely a bunch of people who get paid to perform certain tasks–their interest is in payment, not in the overall good of the company.

If you’re writing about a company, you can try to finagle things and give them a collective interest, but ultimately the form of the relationship militates against the attempt. It’s simply very, very, very difficult to pretend that people who work together at a for-profit company are part of something larger, something that matters. You can do it, of course, by making the company small, making it a startup, giving it a social mission, etc, but it’s a lot of extra work. Whereas if you just choose some other form of social tie to bind your characters (i.e. family, road trip companions, trivia night team, apartment building neighbors) you end up doing a lot less work.

In this case, I originally had my character exist outside the collective, which meant doing a lot of work to bring her in, introduce her, make her interact w these people, and ultimately I realized, her fundamental problem is she doesn’t necessarily want to be a part of a collective. So instead I thought, why not bring her in and make her a part of it up-front. Well, instantly, everything became much, much easier.

When you’re writing, these are conscious decisions you can make–or, rather, they can instincts you can observe and then consciously develop. Nowadays when I’m writing and things feel a little difficult, like I’m forcing it, I always think, “Can I bring people together more organically?” The other thing I do is that if I’m having trouble w one part of the narrative, I think, “Maybe I need to focus more on this conflict, and turn my inability to do this thing into the core of the book”. For instance, I was writing a book recently where, through multiple drafts, I tried to make two women friends. I was like they have to become best friends, this has to happen, this is what the book is about. And eventually I realized, no, the book is about how they’re not really best friends, can’t be best friends, given their current social constraints. 

Yep, I felt pretty proud of that one.

I really like that mental side of writing–the shaping and refining of the story. It’s an under-appreciated part of the process.