Monday, October 20, 2008

The hectocotylus and other animals (and their love lives)

Dave Freer posting:

It is, to put it mildly, a little odd that so many would be writers are fascinated by the writing process of others. As far as I have been able to fathom: no two writers write in quite the same way. Often the process of any two seem to be so different as to be totally unrelated, possibly acts by different species. It’s rather like studying wasp-pollinated orchids, cephalopods and sharks in order to sort out your love life.

And therein may lie a sequence of answers. The orchid has evolved to look like a lady-wasp, and male wasps (rumored to be rather like Mick Jagger, or at least to belt out "Ah cain't get no..." in waspish) do a remarkable job in fertilizing orchids if failing rather dismally with lady-wasps. The trick is extracting something useful from this. If you’re going to pull male wasps and get something out of the process, you’re going to have at least appear to be something they fancy (which applies rather well to writing).
The cephalopods: well as a rather bizarre story, one the arms of the male squid, cuttlefish or octopus is modified as intromittent organ - called a hectocotylus... And in several of the octopods and IIRC some cuttlefish, this er... breaks off and is left behind... Which resulted in early systemetists thinking it was a parasitic worm (hence the name). Now besides the part about being a parasitic worm applying rather well to some people’s love lives, it also accurately describes writing. If you want to succeed you will have put a part of your being, your heart, your soul and bits you may not wish to expose or lose into this. And it will probably hurt. May be lost forever... And people will probably insult that sacrifice.
And as for sharks... well, I’m not going to go into the gory and bizarre detail. If that aspect helps your love life... I suggest your partner gets a restraining order and you seek professional help! But in general terms the one thing about sharks is that the male shark is, shall we say, persistent. And nothing could be more vital advice to anyone who wishes to write.
Ergo: what you take out of reading about my writing processes may be more of a reflection of you and your needs than about my rather insane methods, but I hope they help you anyway. There is no 'right' way. And biology is fascinating and far more weird than most people can imagine. I often suspect some writers turned to fantasy to escape the mundanity of their ordinary work. I suspect I escaped into fantasy because it was more plausible than the reproduction of Callorynchus capensis.
At them moment I am busy with a solo fantasy novel, and have had some issues with plot and structure. More on that next time...


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Dave,

Trust you to have a completely left-of-centre way of explaining the craft of writing!

Cheers, R

Dave Freer said...

(smile) but I think it's both an art and a craft. About 30% art and 90% craft (and yes, I can add). I was very restrained. I didn't bring toads, slipper limpets, or scorpions into it.

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

I tell people the much same thing, only I say success in writing is 30% talent and 90% persistence.


Aston the Splat said...


What about centipedes?

I still like that short. :P

Good analogy though.