Monday, November 3, 2014

Oh revision you tricky b$@!h...

And yes, I mean that as in revision is like a cunning canine adversary (like a female fox, the most cunning and intelligent of all foxes).

There are a lot of pitfalls for writers when it comes to revising your work. So many traps to fall into, or be led into by a red and white tailed huntress... It's easy for a writer to finish a first, second, or third draft of something and think, "Yeah, I nailed it. Everyone will love it," and then balk when it turns out people don't. It's easy for a writer to pour their heart and soul into a revision because they know that the last draft just wasn't good enough, and get to the end and feel like the amount of work and love they put into it will be obvious to everyone who reads it... and then find out that it wasn't. It's easy to feel justified in ignoring other people's critiques because they simply "don't understand your work." And it's also easy to let someone else's words break you, convince you that you're so far from the mark you'll never get there, and maybe you should consider giving up.

I like to think I don't fall into any of these traps frequently, especially not any more. I've developed a pretty thick skin over the years receiving rejections of short stories, critiques on longer works, etc. and I've also come to really value other people's input on what could make my writing better. But we're all susceptible to these traps no matter how far we think we've come since we started. Never is that clearer than when you are at the stage of your process that necessitates feedback from others.

Objectivity, though difficult to maintain, is of prime importance. Conflictingly, so is trusting your gut. It can be hard to do both at once.

Other people's input can be paramount in holding yourself accountable as a writer; making sure that you're producing something worthy of an audience, making sure that someone other than you can follow the thread of your story, fall in love with your characters, see the world that you're trying to build. You need people to test that and make sure that you're doing your job.

On the other hand, no one else knows your intent the way that you do. No one else knows exactly what you're trying to say and how you best need to say it in order to express yourself as you intended. Every reader who picks up your work will take something different away from it and you cannot possibly account for everyone's tastes and interpretations. Also, *gasp* not everyone who reads your work will like it. You cannot please everyone. Truly you can't. Not everyone agrees about what makes a good book (not even Shakespeare, Hemingway, Austen or Woolf are universally liked) and if you worry about everyone liking your book you're in for a life full of non-stop worry.

Yet, while trusting your gut when it comes to your work can tempt you into thinking that whatever you've put on paper should be good enough for "the people who truly appreciate you" (whoever they are) and everyone else can eat shit. Heeding the critiques of others can cripple you from ever having the confidence to hold a pen in your hand and decide that it's worth your time to put it to a piece of paper.

You need balance. Any story ever written (yes, including all the ones currently in print) could be improved upon. The changes you can make to a piece of work are infinite, (as are the changes someone else could make) and if you ever reach "perfection" in a particular turn of phrase or scene it is sure to be a fleeting thing. If nothing else, time and perception will turn it into something less than perfect; all you have to do is wait. So, to refuse to publish anything until it's "perfect" is to never publish anything at all.

Conversely, to simply put words on paper (or screen) and deem them "good enough" without ever attempting to improve yourself or your craft is to give up on yourself as an artist. Anyone can put fifty or one hundred thousand words down on paper, but pushing yourself to make those words matter, to make them beautiful to yourself and hopefully some others, requires art. You can always improve and you should always strive to.

When, then, do you say "enough?" If a work can always be made better and you should do your best to improve yourself, how do you ever declare anything "finished?"

I imagine the answer to that is different for everyone. For me it comes from knowing that something is as good as I can make it with the time I've allowed myself. Because when it comes right down to it, I could spend years and years fixing every first draft I've ever written and never release a single book. But, I'd rather get things to the point where I'm proud to have my name on them, release them into the world, and then learn from my mistakes and incorporate that learning into my next project.

If I were only ever planning to publish a single novel I might feel differently. If I were shooting for the "Great American Novel," or seriously hoping that my first full length publication were going to win me some awards, I might delay further. Does it seem wrong to say that? Are you wondering why I would publish anything that wasn't the absolute best possible version of it that I could make?

Did you read the part where I said you could perfect things indefinitely?


I want all my work to be good. I don't publish anything (or submit things for publication) if I'm not proud of them. But, what makes me proud in my writing today is different than what it was ten years ago, than what it was even a year ago, and even than it was last week. So the longer I delay the more apt I am to delay further. Deadlines help me move on. I have a LOT of stories in my head. I also have a bunch on paper already that are awaiting revision. I don't have infinite time to revise. At a certain point I have to simply look at the work and say: would I be happy if I spent money on this and then read it? If the answer is yes, it's probably time to move on.

I write for me. I write because I love writing and because I would go insane if I couldn't write. I write because I have no choice but to write.

I revise for me and for others. I revise because I like challenging myself to do better, because I like to see what ways the story could improve and to mess with all the variables and see what I come up with. I revise to make sure that other people see what I see, hear what I hear, live in an imaginary world of my conjuring and then make it their own.

I publish for others. Making things pretty enough to publish is simply an act that enables people to enjoy my stories in the simplest form possible, pages in hand. Of course I hope that the act of publishing will gain me more readers, but it is all about the readers. Gaining them, keeping them, giving them something to come back for.

Balance, balance, balance. Walking on a slackline over a canyon and trying not to slip.

Here is a picture of how beautiful the sky was yesterday just after sunset. Hope everyone is well on this lovely fall evening.

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