Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'll just fix you up later

When I wrote "Misty Cleareyes," I ended up being severely disappointed that my work wasn't clean and crisp. I imagined ending my first draft with something that, though unpolished, was at least coherent.

That, however, was far from the case. The story's basic premises - as well as its characters, its setting, and its (what we might call) "techno-status" - evolved as I wrote, and by the last line I knew that I would very nearly need to rewrite the entire thing, page for page, line for line.

I had hoped that in my current project, "Panopticron," I would suffer a kinder fate. Not so. I'm running into the same phenomenon: the, "oh, but what if..."

Basically, there's a love hate relationship between me and this sentiment. I love it because it points out how my story could be better; hate it, because it points out how my story is presently rank. Generally speaking, I think there are a couple reasons I am "naturally" hostile to this feeling:

1. Narcissism: Obviously, I should already be a famous writer with a bathing pool full of money, so why all the work?

2. The short story: I've been writing mostly shorts for a long time now, and I find they come together with much greater ease because there simply isn't the time to experience an evolution that forces you to radically revise the basic assumptions you set out with when you sat down to write that story. A novel gives you time to stop and smell those... roses? Azaleas? What the heck are those things?

3. Writer's advice: I've relied at various times on the advice of certain writers while refusing the advice of others, giving me a certain view of how I "ought" to write that sticks to my fingertips like a crusty, outmoded ideology.

Of course, in the last case, one type of advice always tends to break down the beliefs of the previous, so that it is not really a jumping-from-one-spot-to-another while remaining relatively static, but an actual evolution through stages of maturity in the "thinking-about-writing" process.

Anyway, the latest "leap" for me came from the double dragon of my recent novel-related revelation and this article at io9. Writing more than a draft or two has been anathema to me for a while, though I'm starting to think differently. For example, over the past five weeks, "Misty Cleareyes" has clarified itself in my head; when I'm done a rough of "Panopticron," I think I'll be ready to start Misty from the ground back up - and this time, do it better.

Will I need a third, or a fourth, draft? It's likely; but only actually doing the work - something that, in terms of re-writing, I frequently avoid - will tell.



  1. That's the spirit!

    Books are a different medium from short stories. I can keep a whole short story in my head as I write it. The writers I consider geniuses had the ability to keep whole books in their heads as they wrote them. I have to build up mental pathways before I can do that, and the only way to do that is to write more books.

  2. True that. I was reading an interview with Steven Erikson the other day, who says he can keep a whole bunch of stuff in his head. I wish I had a spell or a scroll for that. Anyway, it seems like all this new stuff just kind of piles in...

    The same thing happens with short stories, too, occasionally, though I find myself better able to refuse their demands.