Writer’s Sex or Writer’s Love?
Today over on her blog Comma N’ Sentence, my friend and professional writer Laryssa Wirstiuk writes of the importance of being honest with oneself as a writer. Of the need for writers to be, as much as is possible, objective when it comes to reading their own works, and subsequently revising same. While she concedes that a 100% objective view of our own works is not possible, she stresses the need for some distance and perspective. And she recommends several things that I myself utilize when writing. (Especially the concept of finishing something and leaving it alone for a few months to make it fresher before I start the first revisions.)
As I mentioned in my comments on that post, distance is easier to gain when we have months to spare. That approach isn’t feasible of course when we are on a rapidly approaching deadline. In those cases we must seek out the vital emotional distance and objectivity Laryssa mentioned in other ways.
Now to be sure sometimes it’s easy to maintain an emotional distance from some things we have to write. As much as we’d all like to believe that the writer pours heart, soul and mind into every single piece they find themselves writing, it isn’t so. Certain things we write are just not going to be artistic. The piece we get paid to right on the pig roast at the American Legion can be a well written, easy to read piece, but we are unlikley to have an emotional attachment to it. At such times a writer’s focus is dedicated more to the craft and technique of writing, than it is to the art and emotion of same. Such aspects of writing are still very important, as they help us even when we want to be artistic in our writing. But they are not the focus of today’s post.
So we set aside those pieces with which we have little to no emotional attachment as writers. It is the personal pieces, the ones that speak to some deep part of ourselves, the words we yearn to get out of our hearts for whatever reasons that are at issue. It is just this type of writing that can be sunk by emotional attachment.
“But how is it art if I am emotionally detached from what I write?? Where is the passion? Don’t I need to feel something personally in order for my important writing to connect with other people? What kind of soulless word mill are you anyway, Ty?”
If this is you, be calm. The answer is yes. You do need, and can use emotional attachment to your writing in order to make it better. But you must apply it at the correct time, in the proper way.
I have come to believe that writing things with which we feel a personal connection is like romance. The greatest chance of lasting fulfillment in both writing and romance lies in patience, timing, and proper perspective.
Most of you probably know what it is like when you first fall in love with someone. And if not, you know someone who has done it. A preoccupation with everything the beloved does, says, thinks, and wears. A desire to be with them as much as possible. A mental block which prevents the one in love from ever processing potential problems or flaws with the object of their affections.
Now let’s be adults for a moment. What tends to happen when we make all of our decisions about commitment whilst in the midst of the swirling hormonal cocktail of what is now deemed “falling in love”? When we proceed to take that initial attraction we feel for someone and spend it like jet fuel on going on a few dates, having great sex, becoming exclusive, and talk of moving in with one another all within a few months? You know the answer; it tends to one way or another someday end in painful failure. And it does so because we have allowed an initial spark of interest and attraction to stand in for the energy and effort and time investment that is required to make a relationship grow, mature, and blossom into something more than glorified puppy love for adults.
Our relationships with our writings that mean the most to us are similar. That spark of inspiration, born out of a passion for an idea, a story, a piece of advice. The high we feel as we ponder the notion of people reading it. It can be a powerful feeling for the writer. If we are not careful it can drive us. But in reality, like the twitterpaitted new lover, it must be the other way around to work. The person must drive the feeling instead of the feeling driving the person.
Enjoy that spark of inspiration when it comes. Harness it. Write is down. Thank your muses for it, and allow some daydreams to enter your mind. But then you must slow everything down. Turn off the faucet of emotions. Step back, and make a plan. How will you write it? How long? Are there any deadlines, and if so, what are they? And most importantly, do not become attached to a first draft. Ever. Not once ever.
If you cannot find a way after the initial spark of inspiration to concentrate on basic technique, structure, and broad outlining without being in love with what you are writing (yet), you will never get anywhere. You will either fuss and nitpick your project into oblivion due to that deadly writer’s disease of perfectionism (which is far worse than so called writer’s block) or you will become so attached to every word you won’t ever be able to edit it. Both mean you are not going to get anywhere with the piece. Shady vanity presses thrive on the latter group, and the world is littered with unedited, stream of consciousness pablum because of it.
You must shove each page (or paragraph) of a first draft out onto the screen like a mother bird shoves the baby birds out of the nest. The novel I am writing is currently at page 360, and I have not read page one since the day I wrote it about a year ago. The only thing I ever see of it is the first sentence for a millisecond when I call up the file to begin that day’s writing session. And I won’t be reading it with any sincerity until the revision phase begins in mid-summer. (After a three month break, thank you Laryssa.)
And it is the all powerful revision phase where the romance at last plays in. For once you have a draft and you begin to widdle away at the poor things, re-arrange chapters, delete scores of extra pages, all in an attempt to find what you need under all of the rubble, the emotional attachment to your work begins to return. You can think again about that spark and start to build everything around it. Again, don’t be consumed by it because it is still early. But your first revision can afford the occasional return of that excitement. It is through your revisions that your soul will start to speak, not through your first draft. And the more revisions you go through, the more you can let your heart connect to your piece.
Remember our couple from earlier? What if instead of moving that fast, they allowed that initial spark of attraction to dazzle them for a while. But after a few days they exercise restraint. They email each other a few times over the week, and maybe a brief phone call on the weekend. They set up a single date, in public, and enjoy each others company, but opt not to delve headlong into the attraction that each of them is feeling. They communicate more. They ask questions. They experiment with doing different activities together. They get to actually know the person that lies behind the attraction. And as time goes on they discover that there was a reason for that spark, and they begin to fall in love.
Or not. They go on a few dates, don’t go head long into passion, and realize once that spark has cooled a bit that aside from a few funny remarks at a party and an impressive body, the other person doesn’t share much in common with them. That they would provide little hope of a lasting relationship. And the two part ways amicably. Just as you may do with something you have written during the revision process. You may find at that point that there isn’t much to salvage. That the initial idea you had doesn’t work, or no longer speaks to you. And you decide to file the draft away, and move on to other things.
Yes, that is a lot of work. Yes it takes practice and discernment. But to paraphrase the line from the film, A League of Their Own,
“It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t everybody would do it.”
I suppose in some places there is the writing equivalent to the one night stand or the hook-up. Maybe that is what comment sections are for on blogs or other websites. Maybe that is what message boards are. I can’t say, as I try my best not to fire off anything in writing on any platform, no matter how tempting it may be. True, not all romances are going to be life-long partnerships, but that doesn’t mean I have to be sleazy either. Even the shortest of relationships can include respect and class. That is what I try to put into all of my writings, no matter what the topic, length, or deadline. I hope you do the same.
Have you ever gotten too attached too early to something you were writing?
The way you compare writing to relationships is brilliant. I completely agree with you. Privately, I refer to my manuscript as my “boyfriend” because we've cultivated an almost three-year relationship. In the beginning, we experimented, and we felt each other out. Now, I understand “him” much better. I've hit a stride in the relationship. Great post!
Thanks, Laryssa. I can see I am not alone with this analogy. And while I wouldn't call my novel my girlfriend at this point, we certainly are getting ready for the next step in our relationship. =)
This is such a great way of looking at it. We really can get blinded by the love of our words, but that's never good because it ends in us doing stupid things, like trying to get a first draft published when it really needs some revision! Real love, with respect & class like you mentioned, gives the writing the space and scrutiny it needs to grow into the work it deserves to become.