Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

The Universe is Self-Ordering

By Steven Pressfield | Published: October 7, 2009

Chaos. The Big Bang. Crap flying everywhere.

Imagine ourselves back at the beginning of time. The universe is raw energy, blasting at light-speed in all directions. (Stay with me, this is going somewhere). What happens? As time passes, electrons coalesce around nuclei. Molten matter cools; stars and planets form into spheres. Celestial objects find paths and settle into orbits. The gravity of one star system counteracts the fields of others. Galaxies appear. Order emerges.

On planets where liquids exist, rivers form and run downhill. Seas arise. Atmospheres stabilize. Before you know it, we’ve got adventurous fish crawling out onto dry land, hominids beating each other’s brains out with rocks, and guys with pocket protectors doing IPOs for software companies.

The chaos of our art

What about your novel? Is Resistance telling you your material is too big, too sprawling, too out of control? Bullshit.

The universe is self-organizing. That’s a law. We artists and entrepreneurs are too, and so are our dreams and aspirations. We have a mighty ally on our side. The Law of Self-Ordering. It’s as infallible as gravity and it’s our friend.

Do you believe me? It’s 1850, let’s say, and we want to write a novel about whaling.

How Moby Dick wrote itself

We’ve got a dark view of life; we believe the universe is composed of primal forces in eternal opposition to one another so … how about a whale and a whaling captain? Now that’s a clash! It’s organic, it’s believable. But what should this skipper look like? Johnny Depp? Matt Damon? Wait, how about a peg-leg and a scar? A beard, a fiery brow. We’ll dress him in black–

See what I mean by self-organizing? Let’s turn to our whale. He’s gotta be huge, we know that. With bent and corkscrewed harpoons sticking out of his hide from all the whalers he’s fought and defeated. But what color should he be? We want him as primal and scary as possible, so … green? blue? Ooh, white. Now we’re getting somewhere! How about a name? Bangalore Ben? Marshmallow Mike? Give us a minute, we’ll come up with something …

Chaos is self-organizing

Books wanna be what they wanna be. So do albums, entrepreneurial ventures, and statues of David. Our job as artists is to heed these half-formed, as-yet-unmanifested galaxies within us and help them to be what they want to be.

I saw Jurassic Park so I’ve heard of Chaos Theory. Its thesis, I believe, is that all things and systems devolve eventually into chaos. I beg to differ. I think anarchy matures over time into order.

Our symphony evolves into four movements, our screenplay into three acts. If we keep plugging away, the Law of Self-Ordering comes to our aid. How, specifically, does this manifest itself?

Ideas come to us in the shower. We achieve a breakthrough riding on the subway.  All at once, musical themes that seemed to bear no relation to one other discover a common harmonic and come together. Our sprawling novel finds its center of gravity; now we can cut 300 not-on-theme pages and voila! The damn thing coheres. It works.

Chaos (including the chaos of our nascent businesses and works of art) is self-organizing. All we have to do is keep working and give it the chance.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

10 Responses to “The Universe is Self-Ordering”

  1. October 7, 2009 at 5:29 am

    Your blog today stands alone…but if readers don’t have/haven’t read The War of Art, do yourself (and your endeavors) a big favor and find it quickly!

    • October 13, 2009 at 10:20 am

      I am getting back to my choatic, way to big, novel. Thanks. Julie

  2. October 7, 2009 at 7:45 am

    Well put, but chaos theory doesn’t quite say that all things delve into chaos eventually. It stipulates that complex systems arise out of simple things and then organizes itself at the edge of chaos. There’s a good book on chaos theory called ‘Deep Simplicity’ by John Gribbin that does a very good job of explaining chaos theory in layman’s terms.

  3. October 7, 2009 at 9:56 am

    The thing that clicked the most with me on this post was the concept of Self Ordering. I’ve felt this before in my own writing and hardly noticed it. I wonder if recognizing this concept is like waiting up for Santa: knowing that you’re prying eyes rest on the living room, the deliverer never arrives. Or is it the opposite and instead of remaining elusive, the organization feels welcome like an old friend?

    Wonderful post. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Ben
    October 7, 2009 at 11:21 am

    Thanks so much for your writing/blog. It has truly been a great help with my own work.

    Here is my submission for favorite WOA quote… Reading the passage where you describe finally sitting down to write after years of avoiding it and then doing the dishes while whistling was a huge turning point for me. I could really relate to this and I finally realized, just as you did, that ultimately it is more painful to continue to avoid the work than it is to just do it…

    “It hit me that I had turned a corner.
    I was okay.
    I would be okay from here on.
    Do you understand? I hadn’t written anything good. It might be years before I would, if I ever did at all. That didn’t matter. What counted was that I had, after years of running from it, actually sat down and done my work.”

    Thanks!!!

  5. Kim
    October 7, 2009 at 5:47 pm

    Your post was just what I needed to read today — a day of creative chaos, highs to lows. Thank you.

  6. October 7, 2009 at 8:11 pm

    I read somewhere (a book by Michio Kaku, I think) that the universe has a priority system that goes like this: Do what’s easy, do what’s hard, do something.

  7. Brad
    October 9, 2009 at 6:55 am

    It should be noted the self-ordering does not nessessaryily include freedom or liberty. There can be no question that America is becomming a much more ordered country.

  8. October 11, 2009 at 10:02 am

    Entropy is a nonsense for authors. I´m not sure if was Henry Miller of Harold Robbins who answered to a wannabe writer about the “secret”: “Lock yourself with some sheets a complete weekend, and write all and every idea that comes to your mind”.

    In my experience, no doubt they will finally form a thing with some kind of order and logic.

  9. hughftz
    October 27, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Right on point. Thank you!