I remember playing a game of pool on the quarter table at a bar called Pep’s. I was eighteen, about ready to graduate from high school. My opponent was pretty good; at one point he had been ranked in the top 100 professional pocket billiard players in the U.S. By the time I met him, he was a middle-aged barfly who spent his nights hustling people for ten or twenty bucks a rack. I knew better than to play him for money, so the stakes in this particular game was a round of draft beer.
I had the stripes, and I was on a five ball run when my sixth shot on the 11 ball rattled around the corner pocket, but stubbornly refused to fall. It sat there right on the edge, mocking me.
“You got potential, kid,” the guy said, “but you don’t consider all the angles before you take your shot.”
“Thanks,” I said, a little aggravated.
“Here, I’m gonna show you somethin’. I’m gonna put you behind the eight ball.”
And sure enough, the guy caromed the cue ball off the 3 ball, off the far cushion, causing it to jog down the length of the table and tap the near cushion before nestling itself snugly against the eight ball.
“Don’t do me any more favors, Chief,” I said. At that point I was really aggravated. He could have easily ran the table and collected his drink, but instead he decided to pin me in a hopeless situation.
“Look, I’m tryin’ to teach you somethin’ here. When you’re jammed up like that, you gotta start lookin’ at the angles. Now look at the table and see what you got.”
I took a moment to consider things, and then I saw it. It was a tight-angle bank shot off the near cushion all the way back down to the corner for the 11 ball. There was a generous margin for error because the 11 was just hanging in the jaws of the pocket. The shot looked impressive, but there was really nothing to it – simple geometry, and simple physics. From there, I pocketed the 14 easily enough, and finished the game with the 8 ball in the near corner.
“Nice job, kid. What’s your drink?”
“We’ll call it even. You handed me that game.”
“I didn’t hand you nothin’ but some good advice. You did the rest.”
I’ll never forget that life lesson I learned all those years ago. You always want options in life, but there is one advantage to being behind the eight ball. Most of the possibilities are off the table, so all that is left to do is focus your remaining resources on the few angles that are left to play.
That was exactly the point of my serialized fiction experiment. I could have written the entire story well ahead of time, and then simply parceled out a chapter a week. Instead, I decided to put a little pressure on myself. I wrote each of the ten chapters an hour or two before they were scheduled to post. Besides the obvious time constraints, there were also an increasing number of limiting factors that arose from the narrative itself. Each new chapter had to be in sync with the chronology of the preceding chapters, and the motivations and actions of each character had to be fairly consistent throughout. Of course, I was also trying to move the plot along while making things interesting enough to hold the attention of my audience.
There were times I wanted modify earlier chapters because I felt like I had written myself into a corner. But I stuck to the game plan, and did the best I could with whatever options were left. I took the story in directions I never would have considered had I written it in a casual, non-pressure situation.
So, did the experiment make for great literature? No, of course not. But it did give me some insight into the creative process, and that is the point of this blog. I feel like some interesting concepts emerged from the ten chapters, and with more thought, I could rework it into a pretty good Sci Fi story.
So, I’d encourage writers to put a little pressure on themselves now and then. If you’re always writing at a pedestrian pace, you might always end up with pedestrian results. Go ahead and hop in that Formula 1 car. And if you crash, don’t worry. It only takes a few revisions to get the story back on track.