I’m trying to blog with some consistency (again) and I think I may try to do a sort of Writer’s Tip Thursday. Mostly it will be things I have learned or am still learning from my own personal writing experience.
If you have been following my blog/ever personally speak to me, you probably know that back in December I concluded my undergraduate studies and applied for Graduate School. An MFA in Creative Writing no less. Three rejection letters in, I finally got some good news. At last, the first phrase was “Congratulations on your acceptance!” and not “Thank you for your interest…but no thanks.”
In my last post, I discussed the importance of words and how the meaning behind them can have all the difference in the world. It’s funny how a little compliment can linger in our mind, bringing a smile to our lips days later or how a sharp word can cling, constantly pricking and poking us like a splinter we cannot seem to remove. Oftentimes, we have no idea the impact our words can have. I have been upset to realize that something callous I said has deeply hurt someone, when I had no idea of it being taken in such a way. I have also been overjoyed/embarrassed to discover that something I said was a source of encouragement or inspiration when I felt like I was speaking to the empty air.
Once words are spoken, we cannot have them back again. As much as I rehearse arguments or discussions ahead of time, in the heat of the moment, all of that disappears and I my carefully conceived speech becomes an incoherent jumble. However, most of the time, your spoken words will eventually fade or become blunted by time and age.The written word is a tricky thing. While it can be manipulated and prodded and shaped and re-shaped and torn apart and sewn back together–once it is printed or sent out into cyberspace, it is imprinted forever.. Surely we have realized by now that nothing published online truly disappears. But this wasn’t mean to be a post on kindness or tact or internet common sense.
I think that as writers, although perhaps this is only true for young writers, we often think our words are set in stone. Or perhaps this is just a personal struggle. I don’t know why, but I have always had difficulty with the concept of a “draft.” Maybe it’s narcissism. Maybe it’s sheer pigheadedness, of which I have often been accused. I will write out one copy and consider it complete, when it is far from. I have difficulty editing myself; I either think a story is wonderful the way it is (10% of the time) or it’s as good as it’s going to get (70%) OR it’s complete garbage (20%). (Math again, guys. This is big.) Unfortunately…none of these opinions are true.
As my creative writing professor would often say: “The money is in the re-write.”
I’m going to take that as both literal and metaphorical. Literally, if you revise enough and get to a point where your writing is publishable, you can (in theory) make money. Metaphorically, the only way you can get down to the flesh and blood and beating heart of your story and what you want to say comes from editing and trimming away the fat and the fluff.
A fellow blogger, Pen, gave me permission to steal her term “Frankensteining” (in reference to editing) yesterday. Obviously, everyone knows the story of Dr. Frankenstein and his monster. If you didn’t know that the monster’s name is NOT Frankenstein…congratulations, you learned something new today! This term is appealing due to the allusion and the mental image it creates. Sometimes, we writers spend our time hunched over our notebooks or laptops crafting together bits and pieces of things and waiting for the bolt of inspiration to strike, bringing our story to life. Unfortunately, nine times out of ten that turns into a great, big shambling monster that staggers around and grunts instead of speaking with the poise and precision and brilliance we envisioned. So then it’s back to the drawing board/cutting room/laboratory.
One of the things that I find most difficult about editing is letting things go. I say, “But this sentence…it’s a work of literary genius!” Maybe it is (it isn’t.) But maybe it would fit better in another story. Maybe that line of dialogue I wrote could crop up in another scene or another piece all together. It’s all about getting down to the heart and soul of your piece. Because that’s when Frankenstein’s “monster,” became truly terrifying and marvelous, when he transformed into an intelligent and articulate creature, capable of wreaking havoc upon the world around him.
So, if you write, learn (as I need to do) to pick up the pen as though it were a scalpel and cut away everything that is unneeded and everything that drags your writing down. Get down to the heart of the matter and begin there. It doesn’t matter how pretty the binding is or how supple the flesh, because if what is beneath the skin is a jumbled, rotting mess, then what’s the point?
What do you think?