Be careful what you wish for

I blew off writing Trials today--this is typical for me, I always take a little time to actually start. Instead I finished reading The Passive Voice archives (I told you I was addicted--now, the withdrawal will have to begin).

There were two good entries about blowing off work, so you know, at least it's all thematically connected. The first provides an actual scientific-sounding name for why I have a blog: The Hawthorne Effect. Basically it's the strategy of forcing yourself to tell people that you're slacking off, in the theory that the humiliation will make you slack off less.

Proof that the Hawthorne Effect doesn't always work? A different post about the Internet controversy over George R.R. Martin's work habits. God help me, I find the whole thing hilarious. My feeling about ANY Internet controversy is that 99% of the people flaming away have absolutely no skin in the game and are just doing it for the fun of it. (For the record, I haven't read Martin, either. These kinds of sprawling fantasy epics are so popular that a lot of writers just churn out 600-page books that are 550 pages of boring filler, followed by a 50-page cliffhanger designed to make you buy the next book, so I'm very skeptical of them.)

But to take that impulse to just force a writer to write seriously for a moment: There's actually a real problem with making writers work on a series or book that they don't want to do anymore. And that happens all the time--when a series gets popular, publishers want only books in that series. Had another idea that excites you? Too damned bad! The only thing you can get paid to do is to crank out volume 230 in the Will This DIE Already? series.

That's the reason most series degenerate over time. To use a television example: I'm a huge Joss Whedon fan, and I think season 7 of Buffy should not have happened, because he was clearly done with it before it ended. As it was airing, I was at a party with a bunch of other Buffy fans, and they were all complaining about how awful that season was turning out to be. Yet, they all categorically refused to watch Whedon's new-and-very-good show Firefly, because it was going to be Buffy or it was going to be nothing, and damn that Whedon fellow to hell if he was trying to do something that actually interested him! I was amazed, because they seemed to have no comprehension that there was a person behind all this, and that person might get a little tired of writing the same story for seven freaking years.

But the worst is definitely what happened to P.G. Wodehouse's Jeeves and Wooster books. The early books are great: Bertie Wooster is a young, upper-class British man who, although not unintelligent, always manages to get himself "in the soup" thanks to a certain obtuseness. (For example, he believes that if a woman erroneously believes that you have proposed marriage to her, the gentlemanly thing to do is to marry her, even if you really, really don't want to. Otherwise you might hurt her feelings.) Jeeves saves the day eventually, but it's not easy for him.

The later books are horrible--Wodehouse had clearly come to hate his characters (and I'm sure, his readers) with a fiery passion. Bertie is now simply a moron--barely intelligent enough to breathe. Jeeves disappears for most of the book, only to appear at the end having magically resolved every last little problem. The contempt and resentment are palpable.

I really wish the creative process worked differently. I'm not proud of taking forever to edit Trust: I have a strong work ethic, and it annoys the piss out of me when I can't get going on something. But it's not like making widgets, or even like cranking out X many earnings briefs per day. You just have to respect it, because the results when you don't are never pretty.