When you’ve been writing and publishing for a while, and especially if you started in the Stone Age, back before Cloud storage and more reliable backups were invented, you tended to accumulate paper: Plain rough drafts, marked up rough drafts, galleys, proof pages, the occasional hand-written manuscript (which technically is the only real manuscript there is) , contracts, copies of preliminary illustrations, you name it. I was no different. I think at that time I had some vague idea of shipping it off some day to some equally vague university collection that wanted that kind of thing. I even used to sign and date first drafts of stories before I filed them away, if you can believe that. Yes, it was that bad. Continue reading
Sometimes where writing is concerned, it’s easy to confuse skill with enthusiasm. I mean, if you have two separate pieces of prose, one that flowed siwftly from the pen (metaphorically speaking) and one where the composition of each and every word felt like an exercise in either pulling teeth or deciphering Linear-B, one might draw the obvious conclusion that the first piece was playing off of one or more of your strengths as a writer, while another, say a long narrative section, was getting done by sheer persistence since you’re fighting against a severe weakness in your craft. It ain’t, as the man said, necessarily so. Sometimes you’ve got that backwards.
I’m taking the example nearest to hand: the novel project just prior to the most recent one. I wrote a complete draft but then basically stuck it aside and never did much with the working draft for various good reasons, but now that the most recent project is at rest for the moment I’ve been going back to this one and trying to get it into shape for possible submission later. I still like it. I still think that the cosmological and theological questions I wanted to play with there made for a good story. At least, “in theory.” One problem though, and it’s sort of a big one–everybody talks too darn much.
Completely my fault. As anyone who’s read much or maybe any of my work should know, I love dialogue. I don’t pretend to know whether we’re talking about cause and effect here, but one possible reason that I love dialogue is that it’s one aspect of writing that I have always found extremely easy. Get two interesting characters with something at stake, something to potentially gain or lose, and get them talking to each other? Feh. The scene practically writes itself. Yet in this project that very strength was killing the book.
I have to fight the urge to get carried away, and clearly as I reviewed the text of this book, it was obvious that I hadn’t fought hard enough. Which brings up something I’m not, or at least didn’t use to be good at–cutting. I had to struggle to learn this, and it took years. Lots of them. But I finally turned that weakness into a skill. I am still not a fast or enthusiastic cutter. I would even say I’d have to improve to be reluctant. But I’m a precise one. Which is fortunate, since judicious cutting is all that will save this book. More than save, it may just reveal it as something that’s every bit as good as I thought it was when I wrote it.
If your strengths can kill your work, your weaknesses can save it. Reminds me of the First Law of Power (Black Kath’s Daughter): “What Power Holds, Weakness Frees.” Strengths can bind and limit, weaknesses can cut the cords. All you have to do is recognize both for what they really are.
The cliché is “If you love sausage, never watch it being made.” As someone who once loved such and had seen it made on several occasions, I can attest that there’s some truth in that. Another cliché is “Scratch a writer, find a reader.” So there’s the dilemma. As readers we neither want to know nor need to know the process that produces the stories and books we love to read. Sure, there’s idle curiosity at work, but past a point, watching a writer at work is a lot like watching paint dry, without the drama. As writers, looking away during the process is not an option. Which perhaps explains why some writers never, ever re-read their own work except to review a proof, and then only under duress. I understand that. For my own part, when I’ve done something that at least approximates the vision I had of it, I don’t mind. It reminds me that now and then I get it right.
None of which changes the fact that the process can be very chaotic and messy and unpleasant. But it’s got to be done, or no sausage. Continue reading