December 27, 2004

Who was it who wrote that the secret of happiness lies not in having more but wanting less? It’s so true.

I’ve been applying that principle to my daily dissatisfaction with my accomplishments. I tend to be frustrated with how little I get done despite the number of hours in my days. After thinking about this for awhile, I realized that I don’t define my goals well, and when I do define my goals, if I accomplish them I just add more goals. So I’m never satisfied.

So, I’ve begun to write a little map of my daily goals, either the night before or the morning of each day. Once I leave for work, I don’t add to that map. I’ve determined that, if I accomplish everything on my map, I’ll be content with my day.

And I accomplished everything on my map today: I went to the bank, I got groceries, and I proofed another 25 pages of my big proofing job (I’m now halfway through the book!). So I’m content.

[Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex]

I also watched disc 3 of Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which is some of the best anime I’ve ever seen. Every episode was movie-quality. I was amazed, especially after the so-so first volume and merely good second disc.

It was interesting to see an episode that centered on a truly despicable act of psychological terrorism perpetrated by…Americans. I mean, the series went out of its way to make this as sick and twisted as possible, and approved by the U.S. military and government. It’s the sort of thing that goes way beyond Abu Ghraib and even most of the Nazis’ atrocities. Heck, I’d feel queasy about attributing it to any country or culture; it’s a heck of a thing to suggest that a government might conceivably condone something like this.

Saalon writes:

But how, exactly, do you write the first sentence?

Something feels so arbitrary about it. It’s important. Vital to people continuing to read the entire novel. Yet every decision you make this early in the game smacks of guesswork. By the middle of the story, you’ve necessitated certain things occuring in certain ways. Your options are narrower. Choices can be weighed on the merits of how the interlock with the other things in the story. You’ve got context. At the beginning, you have none of that. You’re guessing what you think you’ll need for where you think you’re going. How do you feel confident about a choice like that?

Yeah, you can go back. Yeah you can always change things. It’s just that the idea of your first step being “Write throwaway first chapter which you will later scrap and rewrite specifically so you’ll know you have to throw out said chapter and rewrite it,” is kind of upsetting.

Saalon’s suggesting a false dichotomy here: Either you write the perfect first sentence, or you write something that you know you’ll scrap later. It’s rarely that extreme.

Yes, it is guesswork. But it’s the guesswork of an archaeologist. You come up with something that feels good to you, and you write it. Later on, you return and improve it. You may need to change a word here or a phrase there, and you may even need to rewrite a paragraph or a few pages, but at least you have something to work with.

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