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Building a blueprint for a better brain by tinkering with the code.
December 16th, 2020
Back to the salt mines, is a phrase often used by inveterate writers, proud of their endurance and fortitude with that oft-touted impossible task of finding the right words. Dancing with the half-filled page, or rather warring with it can have the same drudge and drag as that dirty task of being down in a hole, chipping away at a rock face, looking for that seam of gold. As Ira Glass has pointed out in his infamous prescription to creatives at the beginning of their career, it’s necessary to move through a lot of material in order to get to the good stuff. And just as in mining, a lot of that useless material is tossed, it’s slag.
Slag is that useless rock that miners chip away at in order to get to the diamond, the gold. It’s usually just carted away so it can be out of the way. Many new writers, however, get overly attached to their slag, insecure about whether it’s actually a dull piece of gold or if it’s just some iron pyrite that’ll chip your tooth. It’s without a doubt that much of the slag in writing should just be tossed to the forgiving oblivion of yesterday.
That being said, the future of one’s writing and one’s creative curiosity and ability is always uncertain, and like a tinkerer who hoards all sorts of salvaged hardware and gadgets, there’s no telling what use some tossed slag might come to have under the same pen commanded by are far superior perspective.
This writer, for example, is slowly bringing about a little side project connected to the weekly Lucilius Parables, and at the heart of this project is embedded one of this writer’s very first short stories from years ago. While it was once a singular pride and joy since it was the first readable smack-together of words that others said they actually liked, it quickly got tossed as slag when the realization dawned that it was a fairly faithful -though subconscious- ripoff of some recent films at the time. Nonetheless, the boons of digital memory have allowed that slag to tag along, hopping from computer to computer. And now, years later, with a new story nearly completely fleshed out, save for one strangely shaped hole, a new realization dawned - that being how perfectly that old short story would slip into this plot hole. Naturally, that old slag needs to be ripped apart and combed for all it’s juvenile impurities, but the process in this case isn’t really one of removing more slag. Rather, it’s more like compressing the slag with a muscle of writing that is now far stronger. All diamond was once just lumpy coal, and where coal is tossed aside in favor of grabbing at the diamond, this slag can be compressed into a diamond.
The analogy goes too far of course: masterpieces don’t spring from juvenile efforts, no matter how much we love to convince each other that some people are just blessed with talent. Functionally though, the analogy is quite nice: that young wordy dithering will be a solid little keystone in the new project once it’s revamped and honed - even if that keystone isn’t actually made of diamond or gold.
As it’s been noted many times in the realm of Tinkered Thinking, resourcefulness is simply a matter of seeing something as a resource that no one else sees as a resource. It’s an event of counter-intuition. And while resourcefulness is often a function of optimism, it’s more generally a function of simply having a different perspective. Years working through the slag of a writing practice does just that: a writer’s perspective of their own craft, their own work, and the writing of others changes with time. Inevitably, the juvenile slag of younger years, while once tossed aside as mere trash can suddenly look like a resource worth picking up again, given new creative powers and of course, a new perspective.
The larger point here balances inspiration perfectly: everything can be an inspiration, the difference is always just the perspective we have at the time. Perspective is a necessary filter for the world we experience, and the slag we filter out simply doesn’t resonate with that perspective. But change the circumstance, the aim, the sensibility, the interests and suddenly what was sifted out a slag becomes gold. As the truism goes: one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. What the truism fails to take note of is that those two people can be the same person, given a little time and growth.
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