Revisal of the Shittest

“I believe imagination is like a Darwinian system.”

sock monkey image from

In the above quotation from the novel Sophie’s World (which I finally got through a week ago), Alberto Knox—the story’s philosopher—discusses with Sophie the nature of creativity and how it follows the natural selection of Darwinism:

“Thought-mutants occur in the consciousness one after the other, at least if we refrain from censoring ourselves too much.  But only some of these thoughts can be used.  Here, reason comes into its own.  It, too, has a vital function.  When the day’s catch is laid on the table we must not forget to be selective.”

Oh, that Alberto and his way with analogies…sorry, can’t help being sarcastic toward this book. Disregarding the tremendous education on philosophy it provides (which in itself is good reason to read the novel, and I’m glad that I did), it’s the fictional aspect of the plot that pricked into my skin like so many fleas in my fur. An interesting attempt to provide an entertaining means of digesting large concepts and history, the fictitious story line that distinguishes this as a “novel” versus “textbook” fell a little flat for me. The dialogue was unbelievably forced (most of Sophie’s comments/questions simply served as breaks or segues in the long lectures), and though it takes an interesting twist mid-way through, the characters and thin plot just didn’t endear themselves. Quite frankly, I found Sophie to be a precocious little twit. But I digress…

In any case, what he’s getting at here is that imagination generates the ideas, but reason weeds out the “mutants” and selects the best ones to carry on.  The plot twist in the book also ushered in some self-reflexive commentary on writing and the manipulative power the writer has over those ideas, settings, and characters in his/her charge. As far as the creative process in general, Alberto continues to say (with another analogy in practically the same breath as the first…):

“Maybe the imagination creates what is new, but the imagination does not make the actual selection.  The imagination does not ‘compose.’ A composition—and every work of art is one—is created in a wondrous interplay between imagination and reason, or between mind and reflection.  For there will always be an element of chance in the creative process.  You have to turn the sheep loose before you can start to herd them.”

This “wondrous interplay” is what laboriously polishes our inspired first drafts into final manuscripts. It’s what also keeps us in check so we don’t overly pillage our paragraphs of the words and thoughts that breathe soul into them; all too often, reason defeats imagination when there should instead be a balance of power.

Unlike the negligent Dr. Frankenstein, however, we do need to be mindful of what we bring into being. Our stories inspire us, they speak to us, they surprise us, yes, but they also rely on us to nurture and shape them, to help find a suitable place in the world for them. It’s still essential to follow the writing rules so we don’t feed our stories after midnight or get them wet, thereby leaving the sweet Mogwais of our imagination to metamorphose into Gremlins of loose redundancy and holes. That said, I don’t mean to be harsh on our uncensored minds, and perhaps my title isn’t fair in calling our first drafts “shit”…but far be it from me to pass up a good rhyme, and, anyways, sometimes they just really are ;).  (I think Sophie’s World, for example, might’ve benefited from another read-through…)

Serendipitously, at the same time as I’d read the chapter quoted here and mulled over this intellectual tightrope, Tahlia (author of Lethal Inheritance who blogs on the site of same name) posted “Do we write a story or uncover it?“—here, she asks how much we write using our rational intellect versus not thinking and just going with the flow.  It seems we universally tread this fine line, leaving us with this:  To think or not to think…that is the question when it comes to the evolution of our story.


About thefallenmonkey

Primate that dapples in writing when not picking others' fleas or flinging its own poop. View all posts by thefallenmonkey

13 responses to “Revisal of the Shittest

  • Glen

    Oh God, I’m so hopelessly out of my depth at this writing milarky – I don’t think I understood any of that 😦 maybe there is more to writing than learning to use spell checker after all 😦

  • Agatha82

    Sophie’s world sounds like one boring book, did you not fall asleep? I would have heh heh.

    About evolution, well, the theory of Natural Selection is a bit random you know. I mean, you could have a bunch of monkeys isolated on an island and they like to eat this one type of banana but the fruit grows rather high. So, only the monkeys with longer arms get to feed better, this means they grow stronger, whilst others may weaken/die. The strong ones will have more offspring, which may inherit the longer arms and so on and so on, until you end up with a new species of monkey with longer arms. So, how to apply that to writing? Well you could take an idea, and see where it leads, then take another idea and see where that goes, in a way, I think you do need to think about things or you could end up with a mess that doesn’t work (or a bunch of half starved monkeys with short arms lol)

    • thefallenmonkey

      Ugh, it was SO difficult to get through, and surprisingly not because of the long lectures on philosophy. In all honesty, I would have rather read a straight-up textbook to avoid the annoying distraction of unnatural dialogue and my total apathy toward Sophie’s life. Agendas were so transparent, it made me uncomfortably aware of the author, and I hate that. That’s not why I read fiction. I’ve since moved on to Lady Chatterley’s Lover simply because it was the one book on a store’s table that I hadn’t yet read and I was curious how saucy it is. Yet another book I feel compelled to crank through so I can move onto better stuff (like your book rec!)…oh-so boring patches, and very loosely constructed and repetitive, in my opinion.

      Anyways, hurrah for your monkey evolution example! [clapping with my long monkey arms] Yeah, I think it’s all about spewing out the ideas as they come and running with it until at some point going back to weed out the so-so and the crappy ideas so only the strongest ones remain, written in the strongest way they can be.

      • Agatha82

        I studied 2 years of Natural Sciences and my fave thing, was the theory of Natural Selection. Yep, weed out the weak monkeys 😉

  • Eva

    Sophie’s world was a big bestseller in my teenage times but I was more into Stephen King, and I know why, because all this philosophical stuff has to be explained to me in plain English/German first. Thanks for doing that for me!

    So to think or not to think when writing, eh? Guess it is ideally a mix of both. For me the initial idea is usually intuitive, then I try to provide a framework (thinking) for my characters, having an end point in mind but let them find their way to get to it. Usually works, just don’t ask me how. Then, after they have developed and fulfilled (or broke) their framework I go back again and think over the big picture, so to me, everything after the first draft is a lot of thinking and improving, with the occasional sprinkle of non-thinking inspiration.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Yeah, after Glen’s comment, I went back to clarify the quotations, as I realized they didn’t make as much sense taken out of the full context :). Regardless, that book was definitely one requiring rereading paragraphs over—a lot of great thought to digest, but I would’ve preferred reading straight-up philosophy than the lame storyline the author used. They do teach this novel in high schools now, and I just don’t see teenagers getting into it. I’m already afraid of ever having to teach it, other than taking the tack that we should analyze why the fictional part is so crappy. (hey, that’s as valuable to literary analysis as applauding texts, in my opinion, though I’m sure school administrators wouldn’t care for my ideology :))

      Anyways, I agree with your approach to blending the thinking and non-thinking. Both are definitely necessary, and I think I even balance them out as I’m writing the first time, which is why my first drafts progress at such a crawl…they’re not really “first” drafts when I revise along the way. I think there’s no set formula to it, though, as long as both modes of writing are employed at some stage…I like that you give your characters structure (like children, they thrive on it!), yet allow them to find their own way to those destination points.

  • Milo James Fowler

    Sometimes I’m a planner/outliner; sometimes I’m a pantser (flying by the seat of). I try to think ahead, but not too far ahead, most of the time. That way I get to be pleasantly surprised (and fairly excited) when plots work out on their own. The rest of the time, I just wallow in misery and defeat.

    • thefallenmonkey

      I’m with you there. I thought I would regret more that I didn’t outline this last manuscript, but I really enjoyed the process letting it evolve organically…it’s fascinating how those seemingly random threads can end up braiding themselves together in the end, as if our subconscious knows the story before we do…

  • Ollin

    I love this post, and that pic {did you make it? lol} As always a fascinating perspective on a fascinating topic. I actually don’t think I’ve read any other blogger who has addressed this issue, which makes you pretty unique.

    But it is a question we writers deal with constantly! How much should we let our little writer’s instinct lead, and how much should we let the more “civilized” reasonable mind take over? Too reasonable and our writing can become flat, constricted, boring. If we rely too much on instinct we can get a messy, wild, blob of crazy randomness. Like you said we have to strike a balance, and that is so MUCH easier said than done. I am still working very hard on this balance. Thanks for the insightful post! 🙂

    • thefallenmonkey

      *hee* Yes, the picture is the work of my photoshopping monkey genius 🙂 I’m surprised and giddy that you haven’t seen this topic yet, and hope you checked out Tahlia’s post as well, as she was totally on the same page at exactly the same time! Such kindred spirits in writing we all are…

      I like your “blob of crazy randomness” :)…as I was just commenting to Eva, I try to reign it in by constantly revising AS I write, so it’s the constant interplay between reason and imagination along the way. Definitely helps when it comes time to hardcore revise after reaching the end—for as much work as that’s still been, it would have been so much worse I hadn’t I continually looked back as I wrote each chapter. That’s what I really like about the writing prompts I do in this blog (and have been seriously neglecting lately!), though, as they’re liberating in letting the imagination just run without consequence, left for reason to draw from should it fit into a larger work later. At the very least, it oils up the gears without letting my brain get too in the way.

  • a.m. kuska

    Thanks for stopping by uninvoked! Word is leaking out pretty fast about my almost ready to be unveiled blogging directory. I never read the novel you speak of, but it sounds…complicated. maybe you should write a simpler version for the rest of us.

    • thefallenmonkey

      Ha, agreed. I think the idea was to make philosophy more accessible to a younger audience, but, um…fail. I likewise thank you for popping by and indulging a monkey :). Looking forward to the grand directory unveil.

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