Saturday, January 19, 2008

All Input, No Outgo

There are nights on which I dither for hours, messing about on Wikipedia and blogs and message boards and watching DVDs in the hope that something I see is going to spark an idea for that night's blog entry. Here we are at 4 AM and counting, and the only idea that's occurred to me is the cliche of a writer looking for ideas. Still, I have come up with an angle, and may yet manage to build a coherent essay around it.

Have you ever seen the Short Circuit? It's a fairly lightweight Steve Gutenberg film about a little military robot who achieves sentience and becomes a fun-loving peacenik, more or less. Early in the film he's in someone's kitchen, demanding "Input."

Input is a good and sometimes important thing for a writer. Put someone in a bare room for years on end with no tv, newspapers, books, Internet or friends, and he or she isn't going to have much to talk about. Well, maybe. If the person had some experience of the world before that, it could still find its way into dreams, and be built on from there. But the point's the same. We need input, grist for our personal idea mills. That's what Internet memes are, after all. They're just another form of input.

Problem is, those mills don't grind away smoothly and consistently. Today at work I finished one stage of a project compiling 1600 lines of color-coded data, and had fun doing it. At lunch I read a couple pages of my stalled Joshua Wander mystery, and realized that the world knew about dragons but not humanoid mythical creatures. I spent tonight reading about yet another dust-up over trollish sockpuppets and disemvoweling, theories about the process and stylistic differences between two screenwriters, and two different Doctor Who location shoots, while intermittently watching Series Two of Doctor Who and, when I wasn't doing those other things, messing working my way through Chapter Five of Heirs. All that stuff got crammed into my brain, and nothing of note spilled out the other end.

Maybe it's not the right input. Or maybe the grinder needs the lubricant of sleep to work properly.

But meanwhile I took a peek at Whatever, and there was a thread of hundreds of comments, supplying fictional biographical details about the nonexistent John Scalvi, son of a typo. Most of them were intricate and brilliant, and I thought, "I can't begin to compete with these." But then I added my own anyway. The gag was simply going to be a claim that Scalvi is afraid of the letter Z, and advice not to mention Pluto to him. But I ended up writing about Scalvi celebrating Dillinger Days, rescuing me from a sinkhole near the train station, settling Doc Holliday's karmic debt, and then carving me up as punishment for mentioning Pluto. And everything in that little fantasy comes from some kind of outside input, most notably my trip downtown last weekend. The celebration of Dillinger's capture at the Hotel Congress turns out to be today, but I didn't consciously realize that when I wrote the bit.

It's still not remotely the best whimsical vignette in that particular comment thread, but 'twill do.

As will this essay.


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