Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Only amateurs love everything they write." - Robert McKee

The above was twat (hereby past tense of tweet) by Deborah Biancotti last night, and struck a chord with me. I am not a musician, so it was not a very good chord, but a chord none the less.

I'm belly deep in revisions on this sorry sack of soggy scrotum. Revisions are normally painful, as it becomes apparent how much work you have to do to get the draft you wrote to match the Amazing Wonder Power Masterpiece you have envisioned in your head. Typically there is a lot of work. A lot. Of work.

And angst. Lots of that too.

Which I expect, but this time has been harder than usual because, unfortunately, I like this story.

I mean, I like like it. You know. Really.

You know, when you were in school and just starting to think about boys/girls and had a crush on someone, and it was a totally unreasonable crush, there was nothing attractive about this person at all, they were not your type and you never even had the chance to say 'excuse me' when passing them in the hall, but that was irrelevant because you liked them.

This lack of contact meant you'd constructed an image of them in your mind, which was exactly what you wanted them to be. Anything the real person did that contravened that was conveniently ignored for the sake of this daydream, and you couldn't handle any of your friends slagging this person off because that was also in contravention, and you plastered over every such thing and continued blindly on, until the dream wears out and you realise just what a dumbass you've been and omg so embarrassing why did you even admit to liking them?

The fact that I like this story means I can't trust myself with it.

My perspective is skewed, I'm more likely to forgive its flaws, instead of honing in on them and tearing them out with my shark teeth. Hell, I'm so biased I can't even see the flaws (sharks don't have great vision). I'm sensitive to any critique of the damn thing, so I'm arcing up instead of listening and taking that advice.

I am pissing myself off.

How am I supposed to make this story as good as I want it to be if I can't see it properly?

Normally, I don't like my stories. I get excited about them, absolutely. I believe they're worth writing or I wouldn't even start them. I have great fun in exploring them, and I like the challenge, and the (hopefully) final conquest.

But I don't like them, not in that starry-eyed sense.

Much as I hesitate to state any sort of opinion that whiffs of authority, much as I dislike using the word 'should', I'm going to do both, and say this is not the sort of relationship a writer should have with their work.

Tailend revisions should be about breaking up with the work. You need to put distance in, so you can improve it, make it as good as it's going to be, and because you are letting go. Once a story is finished, once it's done and you are not in a position to change anything else in it, nor is there anything left to change, it isn't yours any more. You're the writer. Now you've written it, it isn't being written, it has turned into something to be read.

And readers are going to wade in and read it and not give a shit about you and your sad embarrassing little crush on your story.

It's time to start writing something else.


  1. Ahhh, yes. I remember those teenage crushes. Of course, all my crushes in my thirties have been completely rational and not like that at all *cough cough*.

    That's a great analogy, Tessa. I think the analogy holds through different levels of crush, too. Maybe this latest work is a bigger crush, maybe even love :-) So it might be harder than usual to break through that rosy haze.

    Of course, one of the other aspects of crushes is that, after the initial "OMG they are so perfect phase" there inevitably comes the moment where you suddenly start noticing all their flaws, all the things you previously turned a blind eye.

    The real dispassionate, objectivish gaze isn't possible until you've been through both of those phases, I think. Maybe then in the washup some kind of balance is acheived.

    Of course, you don't always have the time to wait around waiting for that objectivity.

    I guess, though, like, getting older might not mean that you feel crushes any less intensely, but you can kind of learn to recognise the symptoms, and at least attempt to counterbalance the way you feel with the logic of experience.

  2. Anonymous27/6/09 13:02

    You never stop loving your work, because you love it in part because it's not perfect, never perfect, always flawed no matter what you do, acts up, can't always get up and go to work in the morning like a responsible story, gets drunk at times, maybe even does something stupid and comes crawling back, regretful and asking for forgiveness. You abandon it, but you always come back to it.

    You have to remember your work is your best friend, too, and from that point of view, sometimes to be a good friend you've got to give out harsh advice. Love doesn't mean you can't be honest. Hardly. jv

  3. Anonymous27/6/09 21:42

    Though any metaphor works as long as it helps. Me, I think a story is like a capybara of unrealized potential, now that I ponder further. jv

  4. Love it in the same way you would love a recalcitrant child. Without conditions. Without pause. But with the option of sending it to its room if it doesn't behave.

  5. Now, has anyone managed to change the way they feel about something just by deciding to? Really? Has any crush been so easily dismissed?

    No. That's the thing about crushes. I can't change the relationship, only time can, and I have no time.

    Later, maybe I'll think of it as a precocious child. Later, maybe I'll think of it as a well-tolerated friend.

    Fortunately, admitting to being smitten with it appears to have shunted me along to the next stage of the crush. You know, the big where you're still as terribly affected and butterfly-stomached at the sight of them as before, but it's kind of nauseating and you -dread- being on the same continent as them because YOU MIGHT BUMP INTO THEM and oh god the thought makes you vomit.

    Get this fucking thing away from me.