I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know (or even really care) what Meta is in terms of the platform formerly known as Facebook. But meta as a general concept has been a force in my life for most of the last decade. What is meta? In its original Greek, it means “among, with, or after,” but as a Latinate prefix, it means more like “describing a subject in a way that transcends its original limits or considering the subject itself as an object of reflection.” Okay … what does that mean?!
In my professional life, I spent a lot of time thinking about metadata. In short, metadata is information that describes information. :) To put it in more concrete terms, I might store the number 4.378 in my database, but taken alone, that number doesn’t mean much. But if I also tag that number with metadata like “Pump 1,” “Pressure,” “psi,” I start to have a good picture about what that number means. I might also associate other numbers with it, say 1.5 and 3.7 as acceptable low and high limits for that pump. Now I know even more, and I’d better run along and turn off that pump before it blows!
Okay, I’m back. In my creative life, things can get pretty meta as well. Consider what I call “metawriting.” Now, tons of metadata exists around words and literature; think of how books are broken down into categories and topics for card catalogs and keyword searches. Literature, LGBT, Women’s Issues are tags (or metadata) that describe a lot of what I write, but metawriting is different. Consider that metadata is data about data, so metawriting is writing about writing. I guess that could pertain to things like craft books or book reviews, but for me, it is part of my creative process. For every piece that I write, no matter how short, I end up with two stacks of pages, one labeled “Draft” and the other “Notes.”
Notes are where I work things out. I write to myself about my characters, about where I am in the story and where I need to go, about how badly I’ve screwed up this time. Actual examples of notes are:
“Wow, that was really terrible.”
“Okay, we’ve gone off the rails.”
“With Diane, what do we have to establish, and what’s at stake?” Then, literally in the next paragraph, “So what’s at stake for Diane?” Then, in the next paragraph, “All that said, if her security and sense of self and safety in the world is at stake, we need to establish how precious that is for her, how hard she’s worked and continues to work, and that all is not smooth sailing.”
“When we’re done with the dinner date, we’ve pretty much covered establishment and have a lot of balls in the air. [Literal bulleted list of balls for each character.]”
Scintillating, I know, but metawriting is the only way I can make it through my projects, especially my novels, and turn them into something actually crafted instead of vomited up on the page. Sometimes I come up with a brilliant idea when I’m on my morning run, but I sweat it out by the time I get back. I need to make these thoughts tangible before they become actionable for me.