Bookproject update 004: Ordnung
Now that I’m something like sixty-five thousand words in, I don’t mind telling you that the last few weeks have been profoundly difficult for me writing-wise. Outright painful, in fact.
The underlying problem is one of structure, or lack of one, which in turn has to do with the heterogeneity of scale and texture of the material I want to somehow incorporate into the book. I haven’t yet found the framework that will allow me to discuss the entire spectrum of issues and topics that want to be in the book, from abstract (e.g., spatial and temporal effects of networked informatics; the use of same to afford interdiction and differential permissioning) to highly concrete (specific interactive façades, visualizations, or municipal policies).
Of course, writing Everyware was also much like pulling teeth, up until the moment I hit on the device of structuring the book as a series of theses, after which the actual writing came relatively easily. While I’m hoping something similar will turn out to be true in this case, there will be no little art in finding a form capable of containing (or at least addressing) everything a city is or does.
The minimalist in me is partial to one-word section titles – “Crowd,” “Street,” “Playground,” “Market,” and so on – the obvious trap being that a noun-centric construction like that tends to emphasize static descriptions of a city of bricks over stories about the things people choose to do there. I’m not sure verbs are any better, though: “Working,” “Shopping,” and “Getting Around” sound like sections in a Lonely Planet guide.
At the same time, though, I also like the way the Headmap Manifesto ordered things: its sections were introduced with brief topic lines that occasionally even amounted to natural-language sentences (“Landscapes have a biography and are authored”). I might even take that a step further and try writing an essay-length introduction, decomposable into sentences each of which becomes the topic of a section – blame my inner Oulipo fan, but I’m kind of into the idea of a table of contents that functions almost as an acrostic, or at any rate something to be unpacked.
Well, anyway, that’s where we are. I know basically what I want the book to say and to be about, I’m just having significant trouble devising a compelling narrative frame for everything to live in – especially because I want it all to be accessible to a nonspecialist audience. (Ironically, things would be (much) easier if I thought of the content as a series of blog posts instead of a proper book.)
Do me a favor and share your thoughts in comments? I recognize from experience that I’m at the point in the writing where the right idea will help everything fall into place properly, and not so stupid that I’m not acutely aware that the necessary spark might well come from the book’s prospective readership itself. : . )