Friday, December 11, 2009

Fear and Power

Writing is miraculous. Seriously, how does a small idea, a vague image, a couple of resonating words, or a setting turn into tens of thousands of words? And how do those words make readers laugh, cry, cringe, hide under the covers, rage, or fall in love?

I'm sure the answer doesn't lie in the writing so much as the rewriting.

"Books aren't written- they're rewritten. Including your own. It is one of the hardest things to accept, especially after the seventh rewrite hasn't quite done it." Michael Crichton

When I sit down to write the first draft, I give myself permission to vomit on the page. After all, I can fix it long as there's something there to fix. If I obsess over every word or phrase as I'm writing, I'll never get the story done. I'll spend years tweaking and playing until I've eviscerated the story driving those words.

So why, when I sit down to revise, do I have a little freak-out moment?

"Rewriting is like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush."  Pete Murphy

The enormity of the task - taking tens of thousands of words and making them worthy of another person's attention - gives me pause. Every. Time. Revision is seriously the biggest writing fear I have. I can start a thousand stories, but when I go back to the beginning to make sense of what I just vomited on the page, I fear the task.

Ninety thousand words. One hundred thousand words. That's a lot of words. And from the first to the last, I want perfection. The problem is that there are so many levels of perfection I need to nail. The images need to be solid. The writing needs to be fresh. The action needs to make sense. The characters need to grow and yet remain believable in their evolution. The story has to be layered but cohesive. And all this has to be accomplished in those words I've already spewed.This is huge - and what if I just make it worse?

"You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what's burning inside you. And we edit to let the fire show through the smoke." Arthur Polotnik

It's daunting, and I admire those who find the exercise fun or exhilarating. It's a challenge for me. But it's part of the work. It's part of the process.

Where there's fear, there's power. I like that saying, and I firmly believe it. So my task now, as I dive into the final round of revisions - big, juicy, story-altering revisions - is to maintain my sanity and work through the fear. I'll lean on my support system of critique partners and writing friends, and I'll sacrifice a few peppermint mochas to my muse and the writing gods. I'll even don a pair of Depends just in case the fear gets too gnarly. There's power here. Power to make those readers giggle or cry. Power to disappoint them when the story is over and they realize they'll have to wait to dive into that world again.

"Writing is not like painting where you add. It is not what you put on the canvas that the reader sees. Writing is more like a sculpture where you remove, you eliminate in order to make the work visible. Even those pages you remove somehow remain." Elie Wiesel

What part of writing do you fear? And how do you work through that to become a more powerful writer?


Ann said...

I've been thinking about this post. I certainly don't fear the writing process. And I actually found my recent round of revisions fun...

I think what I fear most--and yet also love most--is putting my work out for critique.

I love feedback, even when people point out my mistakes. I also love when people like what I write. Of course I can always make it better... what I fear, I suppose, is that its not good enough in the first place. It's not even *worth* fixing.

Part of the way I work through that fear is knowing that until I put it out for critique, I won't know 1) if it's worth fixing, 2) or how to fix it. If I just keep it on my laptop, then it will never see the light of day... and what's the point in that?

And what's the worst that could happen? I find out a story isn't working. I can either scrap it or fix it. No big deal. The best that can happen is people love it. Usually, I land somewhere in between.

But ultimately, if I want to be a professional, if I want to see my work in print, I need to first put it out there for critique. And that's how I overcome my fear.

KL Grady said...

Oh, good one, Ann. Yes, putting your words out there can be scary, too. One of my cohorts posts a short story on her blog every week - without vetting it with a critique partner first! That takes immense courage IMO, but what an awesome idea. A story a week not only primes the creative pump but also helps overcome the reticence to share those stories with the public. :D It's something I'm considering. *gulp* LOL

Anne Harris said...

My favorite part is the first draft. Sheer freedom to explore and experiment. Revision is a bit of a come down after that. I'm not wild about it but I recognize it as a necessary part of the process.

What part of writing do I fear the most? Getting lost. Over-complicating matters and losing touch with what was central in the story to begin with. It can sometimes be a process that's difficult to reverse, so when revising, I try to keep in mind what my original intention with the story was, no matter what bright, shiny new ideas I come up with.

Leslie Ann said...

I admire your courage, as it takes courage, and faith to tackle what we're most afraid of.

For me, I'm one of those who loves rewrites and I don't fear critiques, but I do fear the subjective nature of submitting.

I fear the cruelty of some people who instead of encouragement, even in the form of "notes or corrections" feel they must tear apart the work. I fear that I will succumb to the self doubts that always linger just beneath the surface, that I really am terrible, that I should give up.

The writing and rewriting are like being in my own world, it's the sending my children into the world that terrifies me. Yet they must go if they're ever to be enjoyed.

Great post,

KL Grady said...

Anne - I think that's part of my own fear in the revision. I'll meander away from what it was supposed to be and make it an even bigger, hotter mess.

LA - The subjectivity of this business is definitely fearsome.

Debra E Marvin said...

I love these quotes.

I am editing a completed chapter and I'd say I'm about 3 hrs a day over the last 3 weeks. There's a lot going on, a lot of emotion. It's exhausting. I'm yet to finish it for critique.

I do love this part of the process as much as the joy of free writing, but it's so much WORK! I know I'm not alone. Thanks for the reminder.

I fear getting so far into detail that I can't see the story anymore.

Misty Evans said...

KL, I fear losing my inspiration. Nothing stops me from opening my laptop and typing faster than feeling uninspired. When I'm inspired, the story flows and seems to unfold in front of me. When my brain is a brick wall, I might as well forget it.

The brick wall usually means I'm trying to pull the story or characters in the wrong direction. Then it's a matter of taking a break, feeding my muse a good book or some music, and coming back to my story with fresh eyes.

KL Grady said...

Oooooh, yes, Misty. I've lost my inspiration a couple of times, and that really sucked a lemon.

It's good that you know what's triggering that problem, though, so you can at least flip that sucker and throw it on the mat.