Thursday, March 23, 2006


I was thinking yesterday on the drive to work, about the nature of writing. Why writers do, what it means to them (I don't feel qualified to say "us" by a long shot), and what it takes.

As I settled onto what it takes, I realized that many of my recent attempts at prose have suffered from a need to perfectly craft the entire story: setting, characters, plot elements, all requiring an airtight intersection and agreement with one another. I've struggled with this before, but more from a perspective of accusing myself of procrastination - an inability to actually commit to the movement of the pen (keyboard, whatever) until I had everything in place, and the ability to keep that goal line perpetually extended into the future.

This never felt quite right though, because I would put in the effort - a mind-numbing amount of it on select details and tangents of exploration and research, hunting for that minutia which would make my crafted reality indistinguishable from any other. The thought being that at a book signing, were this to scale up to a novel, readers would approach and naturally ask, "Where's ?" Then act all surprised, confused, and disillusioned when the character turns out to be, no really, completely fictional.

A mildly delusional fantasy, I know. Maybe not just mildly. Whatever the case, in order to imbue the elements of the story with that kind of identifiable humanity, I want to have them polished as they're created. Which is completely overboard - a sculptor, for instance, roughs out the entire form from his stone at the same rate of completion. Which only makes sense, as then during the evolution of the piece all areas can be weighed relatively to one another and appropriate adaptations made as they may be required.

So why have I insisted on going to a polished state early on? Probably because I lack the real experience in the value of the rough draft. And, that I fear a loose thread left anywhere, and any stage of completion, could cause the whole thing to unravel and the work rendered null and void. And lastly, that the work would be somehow flimsy and insufficient without it, repelling readers as a piece of worthless writing. Which reader in this case would be me: I'm merciless in my dissection of the written word, often to the point of precluding my ability to enjoy the work for what it is. Same for most creative works, actually; I've probably spent too much time focused on the defining elements of quality expected in software development, focusing on that flawless analytical bent and carrying it with me into the more creative, less scientific endeavors.

I am finally brought to the origin of the title for this entry: I have decided one of the defining characteristics of writers is the ability to make complete exceptions for themselves. To be able to say to the world at large, "That's fine, but it doesn't apply to me." A certain bravado that tells the rest of the world to go suck it: either you can accept the work I've created for what it is, and understand the meaning I have chosen for it, or you're really just not worth the effort.

Throughout my life I've felt guilty for being the exception to many rules. I've enjoyed significant success and after felt the fruition of my labors was unwarranted, or unfair in my favor. That still doesn't fit well with me, and I have to find ways of justifying it to myself by what I do with it afterward - which is usually to enlarge my capacity and capability through refining my resources, unfortunately resulting in somewhat more success. There's a lot of guilt that ends up in my life - hopefully I can turn that into humility rather than loathing.

Here at the same time, I'm talking about an ability to indiscriminately give the world the literary finger. I don't desire dissociation or any kind of social disconnect from my fellow man. But I also have no reason to subscribe to their bias (which as I mentioned above, may in truth be entirely my own, simply projected outward), or be controlled by their prejudices for what makes a fine piece of literature. I must arrogantly throw to the wind the fact that so many people smarter than myself have gone before and written - and do it anyway, despite the formulas for perfection they may have ascribed to (if at all - again, I'm projecting a lot of my own prejudices out there).

My prior perspectives on the subject have always been from the consumer perspective. I've been able to transition between consumer and producer before, where it comes to a few other pursuits (most specifically software, as I've mentioned). So what if I end up with a few bugs in my writing? They can be worked out - it's more important to rough the entire shape with increasing refinement than to pretend I can perfectly predict the end state from the beginning. The writing should be a journey for me as well.

And if someone else has used this or that meme, or knows how to construct this phrase better, so what? Screw'em, this is my book.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Word. It seems to me that you should write your book the way that some people (I for instance) write code: write it fast, and don't worry about bugs. That's what editors are for. If you try to do the job of writer and editor (neither of which you've done before) you'll screw them both up. Just write, and let someone else (who benefits from your lack of personal association with the work) do the editing. It means they'll be pointing out flaws, which are, really, your failings (after all, *you* wrote down the mistakes), and in particular they'll be pointing out mistakes you could have avoided of you were editing as you go, but your book will come out more quickly if you let someone else do the editing. After all, any editor worth her salt will know that you're writing, not editing.