Wordplay: Inscrutable

I was just thinking about differences between men and women, that classic trope. And I was imagining saying something like, “Yeah, women may think and feel differently from how men do, in general, they’re different, but they’re not inscrutable.”

And it occurred to me “inscrutable” is one of those words I love to use but it’s not really a common word. So I imagined someone asking me what it meant, and I’d describe it as “mysterious… unknowable.”

And then it’s like, why not just use “unknowable”? But this gets to the whole point of my wordplay segment: I love the fact that we have lots of different words that all mean kind of the same thing. Because there’s an enormous amount of nuance in everything we think, say, and do, and if we didn’t have all these slightly different words, it would be much harder to communicate that nuance1.

So what’s the difference between “inscrutable” and “unknowable”? Before I go for the dictionary, I always like to look at what I think the difference is: how the different words feel.

“Unknowable” feels like the far edge of the continuum of mystery: no matter how much you might want to know this, you can’t. It will never be found out.

“Inscrutable” feels like it’s not as close to the edge. Yes, it’s mysterious, it might be difficult to discover or understand, but it’s not literally “unable to be known”.

Now let’s see what the dictionary2 says:

inscrutable, adjective: impossible to understand or interpret.

Origin: late Middle English: from ecclesiastical Latin inscrutabilis, from in- ‘not’ + scrutari ‘to search’ (see scrutiny3).

So in fact that sounds very similar to “unknowable”. But (since this is the point of wordplay), let’s go deeper.

“Inscrutable” means “impossible to understand”, and “unknowable” means “impossible to know”. What’s the difference between “knowing” and “understanding”?

know, verb: be aware of through observation, inquiry, or information4

understand, verb: perceive the intended meaning of

While the thesaurus tends to offer these as synonyms, there’s a difference to be seen there if we want it: “knowing” relates to anything of which one could become aware. “Understanding”, though, relates to things which have a “meaning”.

Depending on your philosophy, not everything has a “meaning”; for example, the sounds an animal makes can be understood to “mean” something in the sense they’re in response to a stimulus—the animal could be hungry, or alarmed. Whereas the relative position of rocks that tumbled down the face of a cliff, I would argue, doesn’t “mean” anything, because I don’t apply the concept of “meaning” to non-living physical forces (like friction and gravity).

In this case, the position of the rocks can be “known”, but it can’t be “understood”, because there’s nothing in there to understand. The cry of the animal can be both known and understood, because it “means” something; there’s meaning there to be interpreted5.

The position of rocks in a parallel universe could be said to be “unknowable”—it cannot be discovered through observation, inquiry, or information. But it can’t be said to be “inscrutable” anymore than the position of rocks in our world is “inscrutable”.

There’s nothing there to… scrute.

(I like that as an ending, but back to the initial topic: it’s a dramatic overstatement to say that how another gender thinks and feels is either “unknowable” or “inscrutable”. It’s easily knowable through inquiry, and it’s perhaps-not-as-easily-it-depends-on-you understandable through empathy.)

Eat Your Cake

(A follow-up to Finding vs. Making Time)

I showed this to my friend Chris, and he said “I agree, you can’t eat your cake and also have it.”

I’ve always thought that cliche was confusing, because “have” in the context of food sort of colloquially means “eat”, like “I’m going to have some cake” means you’re going to eat some cake. You can’t eat cake and also eat it?

But I’m being wilfully obtuse. Let’s really tuck into this metaphor.

You can’t have your cake—that is, possess this beautifully-decorated object—and also eat it, because the eating negates the having. By eating the cake, you guarantee that you can no longer have it. Cake is consumable.

Time is also consumable. Time is the ultimate consumable, in fact; you consume it whether you want to or not. Imagine you were born with a very large cake and had to spend every moment reflexively eating it. You can never stop eating it, but the cake will eventually be all gone.

You never asked for that cake. Maybe you’d rather try something else once in a while. A crisp salad.

But, no choice. You’ve got this cake and you’re always eating it.

This metaphor is groaning under the weight of the point I’m trying to make so:

Time. You get some amount of it, and all the things you want, need, or are forced to do consume some portion of that amount.

If you want to do a thing, like writing, which is bound by time (you can’t spend an hour writing and have it only consume five minutes of time), the only way to “find” or “make” the time is to do writing instead of doing other things. Consume time by writing, instead of consuming it some other way, which includes doing “nothing”, like sleeping, or lying on the floor staring at the ceiling wondering why you’re cursed by the drive to pursue creative expression when Netflix is so much easier.

You can’t both possess cake and also eat it. You can’t spend all your time doing everything other than writing, and also write.

It starts and ends there: you either spend some of that time you’re forced to eat by writing, or… you don’t.

Finding vs. Making Time

Just saw this posted on the Gram:

“A writer never finds the time to write. A writer makes it. If you don’t have the drive, the discipline, and the desire, then you can have all the talent in the world, and you aren’t going to finish a book.” – Nora Roberts

The person who posted that did so with this caption: “Finding time to write is a struggle… anyone want to share suggestions of ways they make time to write?”

It occurred to me I do have a suggestion, the supersuggestion, without which no other suggestion is possible.

Take one or more things you spend time doing, and

Stop doing them.

Or, do less of them.

These things may include, but are not limited to:

  • Reading
  • Sleeping
  • Masturbating
  • Spending time with your loved ones
  • Eating
  • Exercising
  • Grocery shopping
  • Shopping for other things that aren’t groceries
  • Showering and brushing your teeth
  • Looking at Instagram
  • Looking at your email
  • Swiping on online dating profiles
  • Everything else you can do with your phone that isn’t using a text editor to write words down
  • Watching TV
  • Composing synth-pop
  • Going for walks
  • Having sex with your partner
  • Having sex with complete strangers
  • Cleaning your home
  • Painting a picture
  • Mountain biking
  • Doing laundry

None of these have been ranked as to how likely you are to want to spend less time on them, and it’s not an exhaustive list.

Regardless. How you make time to write is, you spend less time doing every other thing in the entire universe that ISN’T WRITING, and you spend that time WRITING, instead.

You’re welcome.

The Tangerine Method

Found this on tumblr:

I found a new way to generate landmasses for your dnd games and trpgs or whatever else, fantasy series, etc.

So I present you the tangerine method:

Peel a tangerine then use the pieces how they peel off and arrange them into landmasses of your choosing as above and voila here’s your new campaign world.

🤯

Why did I never think of this?

I’ve been fiddling around with Wonderdraft to generate maps for my fantasy world, but I love this idea so much.

Get Up. And Back Up. And Back Up.

Every day of our lives, we are on the verge of making those slight changes that would make all the difference.

— Mignon McLaughlin

This year is about accepting that whatever it is I’m doing to become Mr. Author Man, I’m going to have to do it over and over and over and over—there’s no one true thing that, once inculcated as a habit by dutifully carrying it out for no less than 62 days, or whatever, now I’m a different person for my whole life.

Instead it’s just: try something, it doesn’t really work. Keep trying it, it works a little. Stop trying it because you got distracted, try something else. Keep trying it, it doesn’t really work. Keep trying it, it works a little.

This feels like a non-sustainable way to achieve a creative process, but… but… but… I’m not Stephen King, as self-described in On Writing. I’m not Chris Fox and I’m not Joanna Penn and it doesn’t matter. My life is the slow exploration of discovering what my life is. I hope that involves writing books instead of just wanting to, but in the same way that Stephen Pressfield talks about the professional not being married to their work—you just DO the work, and the outcome doesn’t matter, you just go do the next thing—I want to treat my whole life that way.

I might mess up my next intimate relationship in a way that’s only 20% different from how I messed up the last two; well, then I learn something new and move on. And ditto for trying to get a book written.

Last week or so, I’ve been better at getting to bed around 9-9:30 instead of 11. I finished binging The Wire and am trying to avoid picking up another TV show or video game, those being the easiest evening timesinks for me. My alarm is going off at 6:30, but I’m sleeping in ’til 7:30, which makes it hard to be ready to start writing at 8:30. But I can work on the sleeping-in thing.

I finally formulated little affirmations to say into the mirror in the morning and the evening and put them in a daily checklist in my phone—creating rituals, something I’ve meant to do for months and months, since I quit my previous rituals for no apparent reason.

And when I realize in a month or two that all of the above fell down, again, all I really want from myself is to sigh, smirk, sweep the cards back into a pile, shuffle the deck… and start the boring, tedious, frustrating labour of balancing their edges against each other again. And again. And again. And again.

You don’t need to earn your awakening, you just need to put both feet in and remember to wake up. Now. And now. And now.

— Jessica Graham

Joanna Penn’s End of Year Podcasts

I try to limit the number of writing-related things I consume, if only to rein myself in from just listening to podcasts and thinking that—rather than working on my novel—will make me a writer1.

Joanna Penn’s The Creative Penn podcast is essential, though. She perfectly mixes practicality with optimism, both of which are attitude I need immersion in.

I just listened to her 2019 reflection and 2020 plan episodes, and strongly recommend both: I’ll be listening over again, I reckon, when it’s time for me to think beyond writing the next scene.

  1. Limited success on this so far. 😜

The Next Thing to Try: Calendar and Coffee

I got some good advice from Patrick Rhone I’m gonna try: using my calendar to stack habits.

The basic idea is: have a regular scheduled appointment to do a thing I like. Say, have coffee at a nearby place every Friday at noon.

After a few weeks that becomes “something I do”—I expect to do it, plan for it. Then, add another appointment afterwards to write for an hour, say.

In time, that chains the habit of writing to the habit of getting out of the house and getting a coffee, the latter of which I do not have a strong resistance to doing.

I already do the café thing pretty regularly, anyway… this way, I’m making it part of my system for getting work done.

Worth a shot! Let’s see how it goes.

Tim Grahl on Book Marketing in Three Steps

I like Tim Grahl’s stuff. He was introduced to me by my boss, Sean McCabe, and I saw him speak (and scored a copy of his book, Running Down a Dream) at Craft + Commerce this past summer. Tim’s got a blog post I’ve had bookmarked for a while, and I’d rather bookmark it here, for the benefit of you and me, than just keep one more browser tab eternally open on my desktop…

A Simple Marketing Plan for Fiction Authors – Book Launch

I’ll just spoil the ending:

BOOK MARKETING IS NOT COMPLICATED OR TIME-CONSUMING

The most common reasons people avoid making progress with their marketing is because a) they don’t know what to do and b) they are afraid it will take too long.

Follow this simple plan to get started and you’ll see it make a difference.

Good stuff. While one could argue that thinking about book marketing when I’m still mostly avoiding working on my draft is just one more distraction… I’ll come back to this when the time is right.

If It Were Easy

It’s been a while… as usual.

I’ve started working on my novel again, in fits and starts. I determined, with my coach, that my deadline for being done the draft should be March 31, with May 31 as a backstop. (In other words, I’ll aim for the nearer deadline, but be content if it takes me ’til the later one.)

I agreed to set aside two one-hour blocks a day, five days a week, to work on the project. I haven’t exactly done that. But I have worked on it for a couple of hours in the past week… which is more than in the previous months.

So be it.

I have a stack of index cards I made when I first planned out the book, and I’m adding to them: there are scenes in there that don’t fit the story anymore, or never made it into the draft in the first place. And now I’m revamping a lot of the last half of the book, introducing a different antagonist, etc. It feels good, but it still feels like the project is on the periphery of my awareness, like, I try to remember to work on it, ever.

I had an idea recently, that it’s not just you either build a habit of writing every day, or nothing. It’s worse:

If you’re not building a habit of writing every day, you’re building a habit of NOT WRITING. Which is going to make it fucking hard to get a novel done, believe me.

Yikes.

Sounds dreadful, right? But there’s another side to it: this question that Tim Ferriss has mentioned asking himself:

What would this look like if it were easy?

Fact is, it’s not real hard to put a little time into the book every day, even if it’s just a few minutes. Just one card, just one scene. It’s when the whole project turns into this big ball of feeling bad about yourself that it seems impossible. It’s not impossible, it isn’t even a big deal.

Even writing regular posts for this blog: what would it look like if it were easy? I got the idea for what I’m writing right now whilst washing dishes, and why not just sit down and type it out, half-formed, edit it… it’s fine. It’s something. It’s a record that I exist, instead of no such record. If I write a book, if I write a hundred books, that’s all they’ll be. I’m not out to change the world, just have something other than my eventual epitaph that says, “Hi. I was here.”

I’m not sure this is a very good post. Know what? I’m publishing it anyway. The way to get better is to just write a thing and then write another thing… Whenever I think too hard about what I’m doing, I just don’t do it. And that’s the only surefire way to fuck everything up.

The Missing Legacy

I’ve said this before, but I get jealous when I see someone who’s created something on an ongoing basis, and realize that even if I’ve wanted to do a thing for years, I haven’t been, so there’s no legacy.

I like the Accidental Tech Podcast, which I’ve seen described as “a tech show we accidentally created while trying to do a car show.” Doesn’t sound very serious, right? It’s a podcast that spun off of another podcast… but now it’s got 354 episodes, running for almost seven years.

What was I doing seven years ago? Thinking about creating things and sharing them with the world, sure… but not doing it, or not keeping up with it.

And I’ve spoken before about the blogs with decade-long archives, and I recently saw this great video about beeple, who’s posted a piece of digital art every day, without fail, for over a decade.

When you’re driven to make things, but you don’t make things, it eats away at you. The way I always wear through the right knee of my jeans after a few years—don’t ask me what’s so different between my right and left knees, but it’s always the right one—your spirit is eroding inside you when you let that creative energy stay pent up, or spend it on pursuits, outlets, that leave nothing in their wake but exhausted time and attention.

When asked about regret I’ll say I’m not into it, because it has such little utility: you can’t change the past, so imagining what it might be like if you had made any given decision (cross the street, take the job, flirt with the attractive person) differently is just an exercise of pure fantasy… and I’d rather channel that energy into writing novels1.

So, there, that’s a perfect example: spend your time fantasizing, or spend your time making things and sharing them with the world. Only one of those leaves a legacy behind, and maybe that’s what I long for above anything else: something I can look at, let alone show to everyone else, and say, “See? I existed. I dreamed, and I gave form to my dreams, and now you can dream them, too.”

  1. There’s something else here I’ve been meaning to write about, coming off of 127 hours of Skyrim over the last month or so: why it’s so much easier, and so dangerous, to play around in someone else’s “fantasy sandbox” instead of playing in my own.