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« Blogasbord of Dysfunction | Main | This headline made me think of Snag »

April 29, 2008

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I still remember when I learned about how integral the white paper is in a watercolor painting.... I still struggle with it cuz I want to fill it up with paint.

who is this 'BP' of which you speak? I, madam, am a painter of punk. A Painto Punko, if you will.

spelling. hmpf.

I gotta say I do not agree with Bukowski or Dan on this one. Maybe it's a novelist's perspective instead of a poet's, but the sheer amount of work that goes into writing requires more persistence and patience and less inspiration. Inspiration doesn't last long enough to get a novel done. That goes for anyone's novel--I've heard the same thing from every novelist I know. A short story or a poem is like a love affair--brief, whirlwind, maybe inspired. A novel is like a marriage--it takes persistence. It's work. The work is the only thing that will set you free. The work is the reward, because inspiration can come out of it even when you don't feel like working.

As for the negative space in writing, I think it occurs away from the perspective the story is written in. Writing of any kind requires a consciousness filtering the events into some kind of order, logical or otherwise--the narrator. The other people in the story, the ones not telling it, are where the negative spaces occur--the minor characters, the foils, the mailman showing up at the wrong moment, the daughter pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong moment, the husband who doesn't mean to deliver the punishing insult but utters the words anyway. They don't get to talk, but they're there. What happens between what they say and what they really think is negative space.

Interesting question. Sorry if I went on a little long.

Thanks for linking to me!

And, oh no! You linked to me! :) You are asking hard questions today!

I like negative spaces too. The shadows, the quiet moments. But, I haven't really thought about it as it relates to writing.

Would the reader only know the negative space was there somewhat like a contrail informs a person that a plane had gone by?

I really like that thought and I think you are onto something there. I'll have to think about this a little more. I'll be back.

I gotta say I do not agree with Bukowski or Dan on this one. Maybe it's a novelist's perspective instead of a poet's, but the sheer amount of work that goes into writing requires more persistence and patience and less inspiration. Inspiration doesn't last long enough to get a novel done. That goes for anyone's novel--I've heard the same thing from every novelist I know. A short story or a poem is like a love affair--brief, whirlwind, maybe inspired. A novel is like a marriage--it takes persistence. It's work. The work is the only thing that will set you free. The work is the reward, because inspiration can come out of it even when you don't feel like working.

As for the negative space in writing, I think it occurs away from the perspective the story is written in. Writing of any kind requires a consciousness filtering the events into some kind of order, logical or otherwise--the narrator. The other people in the story, the ones not telling it, are where the negative spaces occur--the minor characters, the foils, the mailman showing up at the wrong moment, the daughter pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong moment, the husband who doesn't mean to deliver the punishing insult but utters the words anyway. They don't get to talk, but they're there. What happens between what they say and what they really think is negative space.

Interesting question. Sorry if I went on a little long.

I just left a comment and it's not showing up!

I gotta say I do not agree with Bukowski or Dan on this one. Maybe it's a novelist's perspective instead of a poet's, but the sheer amount of work that goes into writing requires more persistence and patience and less inspiration. Inspiration doesn't last long enough to get a novel done. That goes for anyone's novel--I've heard the same thing from every novelist I know. A short story or a poem is like a love affair--brief, whirlwind, maybe inspired. A novel is like a marriage--it takes persistence. It's work. The work is the only thing that will set you free. The work is the reward, because inspiration can come out of it even when you don't feel like working.

As for the negative space in writing, I think it occurs away from the perspective the story is written in. Writing of any kind requires a consciousness filtering the events into some kind of order, logical or otherwise--the narrator. The other people in the story, the ones not telling it, are where the negative spaces occur--the minor characters, the foils, the mailman showing up at the wrong moment, the daughter pushing the wrong buttons at the wrong moment, the husband who doesn't mean to deliver the punishing insult but utters the words anyway. They don't get to talk, but they're there. What happens between what they say and what they really think is negative space.

Interesting question. Sorry if I went on a little long.

Sorry! I kept getting told my email was invalid. Thought I did it only once.

The comments are here! All of them! :) I have no idea what was up.

TLB- I apologize for not putting you down in my first pass of linky love. It's been amended.

You know, Dan has actually said before that he is a firm believer in just showing up. He said he'd actually show up here later... so I wonder if the poem is more about those times when you really do need to step back. I know with painting, if I'm stuck or need a different perspective, it helps to walk away and then return with fresh eyes. It also helps to not beat it to death, but then it's probably easier to delete from a Word document than it is to paint over something or wipe it all off.

I love this definition for negative space in writing:

The other people in the story, the ones not telling it, are where the negative spaces occur...

I forgot to add- feel free to go on and on in the comments. Long, informed comments are not frowned upon, but a viewed with gratitude.

Y'know, I actually agree with TLB and with myself and Bukowski. I'm working in the long form primarily now, and it's true, you can't sit around waiting for inspiration if you're writing a novel. However -- and we've talked about this here before -- if you put yourself in more or less the same place at the same time every day in front of your machine, then if there is any inspiration inside you, you're giving it a chance to come out. But like Buk I don't think you can force it, or at least I can't. Well, you can force crap, but you can't force art. I think it's not too dissimilar from an actor going onstage at 8:00 six nights a week and two matinées. He puts himself up there and hopes the magic happens. A nice thing about being a writer is that if you're feeling crappy and logy or tired one night then you can always give it another go the next night.

What I find really fascinating, Jen, is your question about the negative spaces in prose and poetry. It's funny, one of my favorites is Proust, and, let's face it, he's nothing if not verbose, but even he leaves stuff out. He'll go into endless detail describing every oscillation of the relationship between his alter-ego Marcel (whom I think is only named once in seven volumes) and Albertine, but there's so much about Marcel you never learn. Like he makes a passing reference to taking part in a couple of duels (as did Proust apparently) and yet he never makes a big deal out of it, whereas Tolstoy would give you a great fifty-page dramatic duel scene.

To me a lot of writing, or at least the sort of writing I try to do, is like impressionistic painting. You highlight this part and that part but you leave out a lot of other parts, and you hope that the reader draws some sort of exalted impression from the words you've put in.

Okay, over to the rest of you guys!

I don't agree with Bukowski but that's because I'm an adrenaline junkie. (Like he wasn't!) For me, a good day writing, same as a bad one, poses such an impossible challenge, which I want to meet so terribly that the adrenaline almost makes me sick.
For me, when the words rush out, the writing's often no good. Doing it feels great, but that's all.
Negative space? Certainly the words you leave out count as much as the ones included.
When I read a master--and personally? I count Dan Leo among them--I imagine I already know: what the characters look like; whether they ever flunked a class; how their parents treated them; whether they grew up rich or poor or in between; who loved them best; who cruelly tossed them aside; whether they believe in God or ever have; and certainly what kind of sex they go for most. All that impresses me most vividly when the story never goes near such stuff.
That's why I'm always saying in fiction, as is my experience looking at art, that the person reading it (should one be so lucky) or seriously looking at any artwork contributes and completes the creative process.

Bukowski romanticized the business. But Dan's approach has certainly helped me learn to give it a rest now and then.
Trying too hard will really hang you up.

Kathleen M... you've been added to the above linky love list. I was putting my post up in a hurry and left out many obvious writers to ask!

But, that aside... I love this:

All that impresses me most vividly when the story never goes near such stuff.
That's why I'm always saying in fiction, as is my experience looking at art, that the person reading it (should one be so lucky) or seriously looking at any artwork contributes and completes the creative process.

This now has me wondering... should a negative space be so beautifully done that we don't even notice it, but just feel its impact or does it receive higher praise when it can be cherished over the positive??

That's a question for the visual artist only. My guess is that either would work for me.

I love this definition for negative space in writing:

The other people in the story, the ones not telling it, are where the negative spaces occur...

I agree. That is just really, really smart. Thanks TLB.

even though nobody asked, I find that both approaches work for me.

In the fire of creativity, I've got to get it out. write, paint, draw, whatever.

But sitting down and putting in the effort will often make the spigot open also. I became much more productive when I learned I had some measure of control and was able to make something happen when the spark was reluctant.

But it should also be noted that to learn this, I had to work for a violent, dictatorial inhuman boss under incredible daily pressure...

Maybe we need to remember that Bukowski might have been interested in knocking off for the day at the earliest opportunity and heading to a bar.....

Nice job on the spelling, btw.

Ohhhh, y'all are so smart. Dan's comment above is spot-on: Putting yourself in place for inspiration to occur is what counts. When you're in the zone, the writing can come as if inspired. I guess what I don't like is this idea that unless you're inspired, you shouldn't sit down in the first place. I have so many talented writer friends who have given up because they tasted a touch too much adversity and they don't make themselves sit to work. For me adversity is like cocaine...I work better, faster, harder, if I'm pissed off and miserable and persistent than if I'm inspired but passive.

*sigh*. I can't believe I blog-vomited, Jennifer. How embarrassing.

Bukowski wasn't the first poet to find his inspiration in a bottle. Won't be the last. Ashamed to say how often I imbibe to get the juices flowing. (Not lately, of course!)

I love this thread!

Blog-vomit away!!!

I work better, faster, harder, if I'm pissed off and miserable and persistent than if I'm inspired but passive.

I'll have what she's having. (No, not a baby. :) I had enough of those.)

(No, not a baby. :) I had enough of those.)

...and now I'm full.

hey, it was either me or Snag.

You're sick, Johnny, but it's why we love you.

I hang out with a bad crowd. Tanx Everybody!!!

I don't think my lovely wife should be snorting adversity and blog vomiting while she is pregnant.

There's a lot of great advice here. My small contribution is that I manufacture my inspiration. If I find myself with "nothing" to write about, I'm not looking hard enough or giving my brain the free range it needs to find those topics. I've said this before, but one of the reasons I love writing my Friday music posts is that it's a free writing exercise that focuses on one of my great passions in life. I can always get inspired by music.

I also think you have to let yourself not write from time to time. Writing regularly is work, and everyone needs vacations from work. That applies to blogs too. I imagine most people that blog regularly think about stopping. I've had that thought myself a few times. What always brings me back is the rush I get from writing something I find funny. That's worth wading through a lot of jokes that don't work or posts I start but wind up 86'ing for not being good enough to publish. However, if it got to where I thought I would be happier not doing it, I would stop.

That's where Bukowski is right. Your heart has to be in it. You may not know what "it" is, you may be sitting there every day writing pages and pages of junk to get one good sentence, but as long as you desire to keep exploring the dead ends in the hope of finding that street that leads somewhere.

Sorry, I have Vegas brain right now. I meant to say it's worth it at the end of that.

What interests me is why some people write (or paint or sculpt) when they don't want to and don't have to. Among even the small group of us who regularly read and comment at each other's blogs, I can't believe I'm the only one who sometimes cranks out a post even if my heart's not really in it.

Why?

In part because, unlike Jon Stewart, I am willing to be your monkey. Beyond that, however, my blog, while it may not be art, is as close to it as I'm likely to get any time in the near future. Even if the process is sometimes painful or unwanted, I get a certain pleasure in stepping back and thinking I did something that might momentarily amuse people I've come to think of as friends.

Wow... What an amazing moment to return from my negative space and find this rich flow of feelings on what it's like to be who we are in our creative lives from the hearts of a group of people I hold secretly... OK.. not so secretly anymore... in high regard. I am a huge Bukowski fan... I figure I must have been a drunken womanizer in a past life and now have come back to pay for my sins... I so understand the man. Indeed I am that kind of writer... poet, not novelist... There were about 5 weeks once where I had so much amazing work pouring out of my mind. At the time I had a driving job and nothing could stop it... I was writing on my note paper on the steering wheel highways and sidestreets alike. I was the one who would just sit there in front of you not moving when the traffic light turned green. It never ended until I had a volume of around 80 poems in a book called White Trash Nigger in Hell... of all things. There are also times like today, where I am moving through an incredibly difficuly time in my personal life where I am giving myself, and my blank mind the time and space to sit down and let the words pour out without knowing or worrying what the next one may be... somehow it is part of the healing. And do remember... Bukowski is just like the rest of us... he will do whatever it takes to entertain the writer within. The point I believe he was really getting at is if the creative gift was not yours to begin with... don't waste your time trying to be something you're not... We all probably know at least one person who just wants to be a poet so bad... but you hear them say things like... I've got a show next month so I have to write something for it... Well to me that kind of writing is forced writing... which if thats as far as you can get, I will still give you credit for the effort. And honestly, I highly doubt Bukowski wrote Pulp in one fell swoop of inspiration... I bet his floor and trashcan were littered with Cigarette butts empty beer bottles & half naked men and women laying around in a heap of crumpled up pages that never made the cut.

I figure I must have been a drunken womanizer in a past life and now have come back to pay for my sins

MJ- I knew it! :)

he point I believe he was really getting at is if the creative gift was not yours to begin with... don't waste your time trying to be something you're not...

The above made me think of the fact that creative gifts are indeed that and they just kind of come through us. I think some of the best times I've had working on things have been when I felt like I was being used. As I've said before, I was tuned into the right channel and stuff just came out.

Good luck with your show!

I'm here from Lance Mannion's - I hope you don't mind my jumping in... :)

On the issue of negative space I can think of two ways that I use absence to enhance the effect of my writing (I'm a blogger, writer of creative nonfiction, and a historian).

The first is the literal negative space on the page - the breaks between works, between paragraphs - the decision to use a hyphen instead of a period, or a semi-colon - that sort of thing.

The second, more conceptual, is that sometimes I write "around" my subject, circling it from different angles, exploring different subjects - then, bang! - at the end I whisk away the cloth and reveal what's been hiding in plain sight.

On the inspiration thing, I get what Dan's saying, and I both agree and disagree. There are certainly moments in my writing that possess a certain rare clarity, and they aren't moments I can force. I tend to think of them as my "from the sky" ideas - they fall into my head, unexpected and entire, and they are usually worth pursuing.

Trying to hack out something, anything, in the absence of that inspiration is a lot harder, but it can be done.

And here's the point where I disagree - I don't think even those moments of beautiful clarity don't benefit from additional work and polishing. Indeed, some ideas are more the starting points for a journey than the journey themselves - but the journey itself often is worth making.

I think of it this way - a beautiful leaf that drifts down to lie at one's feet is a rare and special thing - but a beautiful leaf that you can describe to others, display in a lovely vase, and write a poem about is art.

Art requires inspiration AND work.

That's my two cents, anyway! :)

Fascinating thread. I have always read with tremendous interest the "writer's notes" that folks like Harlan Ellison and Stephen King sometimes add the front of their books/stories about this pressure they feel internally. Like the characters are banging away at the author to have their story told.

It just doesn't work that way for me. Perhaps I'm more of a craftsman than an artist. I almost literally cannot write in a stream of consciousness fashion. My brain is almost always rushing ahead or reviewing back and making sure that it all fits neatly together. Or dithering when it does not.

Which is not to say that I do not ever have inspiration. Quite often I will get to a certain point in a story and suddenly realize that something I wrote in a passing manner-- filler at the time to some degree-- is suddenly vitally important and intrinsically tied to how the story needs to end. Or at least, how I think the story would best end.

For me, it's mostly a matter of overcoming inertia. I find that once I actually start writing I almost always enjoy it. But pulling myself away from reading other people's stuff, or playing Wii, or watching Dexter or whatever is the tricky bit.

As with so many things, there is no one right way to do something inherently creative and personal. That's the beauty of it. The joy is in momentarily immersing yourself in someone else's perspectives and having them immerse themselves in yours.

Great thread.

Jen, baby, you really opened up a lot of veins here!

I had to lay out for a day because I was, uh, working on a novel.

Every artist has to find his or her own way, but as Mary Jane says, some people just don't have the creative gift; hey, it's not the end of the world. Not everyone can be an artist, and that's okay. I'd like to be an opera singer, but that's not gonna happen.

I work at my writing like a job, on a regular schedule, but I would hate to think I was sitting there tapping away if it wasn't really cooking. About two-and-a-half years ago I wound up taking almost a year-and-a-half off from writing, 'cause there was other crap going on in my life and I couldn't concentrate. I don't regret taking that time off at all. I didn't plan on taking the break, and I didn't plan on going off the break, but both just happened, and both felt right at the time. I guess this was a sort of negative space in my life, and it was cool. I came back ready to rip.

If I'm feeling tired and burnt out from my workaday job I take a shift off from my writing. I'm always ready to go the next day.

Getting back to the other topic Jen brought up, the negative spaces in art, I've been thinking about that in the back of my head for the past day. It's like whenever a writer chooses to put one thing into words he's choosing not to put something else there. Unlike painting or sculpture, and also unlike music or film, writing is hopelessly linear, it's one word at a time, and you've got to pick that one mot juste at a time or the line turns sour. For me a lot of the fun is keeping that inspiration flowing when I'm going back over these lines again and again, taking out, putting in, just trying to make the notes ring true.

Hey, Nick followed me over here!

Sorry everybody ;)

Nick's got a wii? That ivory tower's paying pretty well these days!!

Comic book writers most certainly use negative space, and space in general in their writing. And there's too much about that to write in the comments space of a blog.

That's, of course, one of the least abstract interpretations, but I figured I'd bring it up, nonetheless.

Not being a writer (other than stuff nobody reads in journals nobody carries) only a reader, when Jennifer mentioned negative space, my first impression of it was the larger impact a writer can have when s/he doesn't actually say something. The story is built up enough around what isn't said so that you know it is there, but it is never actually said outright. Short stories are almost always strong with this effect because there is usually a whole lot of space right after the end that is just filled with impact.

Actually, BP/JRoSF/BM, I followed Jennifer over here. She stopped by my place and left a comment, which led me to stop by her place. And lo, verily there was a fascinating post with fascinating commentary.

And life was good.

Yes, I have a Wii. I would say the Ivory Tower pays reasonably well and the benefits are excellent. The Wii rocks-- in large measure because of the ability to play older Nintendo games on it.

Thanks for all of the wonderful thoughts on negative space in writing as well as thoughts on the creative process.

I was also wondering if the terms "negative space" was redundant since space would imply nothing there... but space.

umm, in my field, space is a tangible element. there are negative spaces, flowing spaces, reductive spaces, serial spaces, restrictive spaces.... Negative space, for me, is another tool to use.... Space isn't 'nothing'.

It's a perceptual clay, used like Jennifer might mold up a Snacktator. Except it's an art medium that affects its users inescapably, whether they are aware of it or not. It's not just participatory art, it's living in, with and around art. Or it can be. For most people though, it's just background like a lawn or a spoon. And for most people, that's what they get.

The level of what is considered standard acceptable built environment in this country appalls me. And it is ever degrading. People spend a million dollars on a house made of styrofoam and crooked wood studs and plastic windows; the day they move in it starts to fall apart and in forty years it will need to be massively redone or torn down.

And it is drawn, not designed. Actual use and flow of rooms and spaces are ignored in order to have the requisite number of rooms and to increase the raw square footage, where an adequately -just adequately! - designed building can be done to consume fewer resources and in a more life-affirming way. But nobody cares, because the design fees come up front, while your typical builder will throw in the drawings because the money is in the building, not the design (and you can believe me on that) Never mind that even if you spend 15% on design fees, the designer can usually save you 25% in construction costs and achieve a 50% or greater life span by properly detailing and specifying materials.

Digression. Rant. Whatever. The thing that always keeps me doing it is the struggle to take something that can be art, and make it practical. Picasso didn't have to build Guernica, and even Warhol wouldn't live in a soup can.

Architectator.

I would spend upfront on the design fees! Gads... just reading your comment had me drooling. I'm purging, sorting through stuff in order to make more space, have more flow in my present situation. I actually love some of the flow of my place, it just needs more space and not necessarily more space to put more stuff, but more space to just be.

Your comment sounds heavenly. Some day jrsf... some day I'll pay you upfront to design me a place with beautiful, earth-friendly spaces.

Actual use and flow of rooms and spaces are ignored in order to have the requisite number of rooms and to increase the raw square footage, where an adequately -just adequately! - designed building can be done to consume fewer resources and in a more life-affirming way.

Ahhhhhh! That sounds wonderful. Architectator with a soul.

Architect Sarah Susanka wrote a book a few years back called "The Not So Big House" and has since made herself quite a bit of money telling people how to live better with less...

I have that book!

Of Course You Do.

You'll note, of course, that her solution is based on hiring an Architect.

Back in the fifties, when FL Wright was working on Broadacre City, he postulated a social order headed by a benign despot - an Architect, of course.

It seemed ludicrous to me before, but what the hell, could it be any worse than what we've got now? At least Architects have some idea how to build stuff....

You could be the true Home Despot! I'd hire you, just don't pull a Frank on me and make me use only JRSF stuff.

"I'm sorry, but those dishes must GOOOOOO!!!"

no promises.

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