Thursday, 12 April 2012

Writing Is Not A Mystery - It's A Commitment

From bronswirlz13 via

I see so many pieces wasted - good ideas, great tension, fantastic characters - by writers who don't edit what they've got into a shape that makes it soar.  A finished piece is more than what poured out of the top of your head in strings of sentences and fragments - it's a well-defined document that is ready to go out into the world on its own.

You don't consider yourself dressed to go out when you step out of the shower and into a towel.  You dry off, put on clothes, maybe make up, shoes.  That's editing.  Without it, your piece is soaking wet and naked standing on the street corner, wallet and keys on the kitchen table at home.

Don't rob your piece of its distinctive voice.  Don't hold it back from its audience.  Don't strand your words.

Writing is a process.  The longer your piece, usually, the longer the timeline.  Build time into your process for all the steps.  They are what elevates your writing, and your commitment to them is what elevates you as a writer.  As you revise and rewrite, you are developing your eye and ear for good writing - you are on the lookout for what a reader would be gleaning from your work.

The Voynich Manuscript - a magical mystical text
For poetry and spoken word, I read pieces out loud over and over and over,  so I can hear what the audience is going to hear.  Each glitch in the rhythm, each crease in the meaning, I attempt to iron out through editing.  It's a great idea to read things aloud while editing and to read a printed version.

The transition from the writing to editing stage is subtle, but there is a distinction to be made and it's helpful if you can find that little place of change and recognize it.  It's wearing a different hat from the one we've been cultivating - yet it still requires openness and presence.

This time you sit down and just let the words you have written speak to you without making assumptions about what they are going to say.  If you bring assumptions here, you'll bring intentions - you'll be the observer affecting the experiment.  In other words, you could end up influencing your own read of the material - and essentially be reading a different piece than your actual readers will.

This is abstract -- essentially, you've got to judge the thing without judging it.  How does somebody do that?  You assess it without emotion or investment.  That's where the trick is.  You look at it, as much as possible, even at this early stage, as completely separate from you.  It is!  It's not you - it feels like you, but I promise it's not you!  It can't cook dinner, do laundry, or apply for a credit card.  It's not you.

Look at it as the gift you are giving to others, or the gift you have received from somewhere else.  Find out what the gift feels like, what it has to say, what taste it leaves on your tongue, what color it sets before your eyes.  Then and only then, you may ask if it is tasting the way you would like it to taste, showing you the color you want to show.  And even then, don't forget to ask if this one you have tastes better than the one you were hoping for, if the color is different, but perhaps, more appropriate.  Let the writing surprise you!

Editing is being your best possible reader and your most innocent reader simultaneously.  It's finding the shape of the piece within what you've written down and uncovering what's still in your mind underneath what you've already unearthed.  It's opening yourself up to the channel of that particular message.  It takes cultivation.  It takes a willingness to empty out enough to leave some space for a new pattern, rhythm or image to emerge.

A lot of people simply don't get past the first stage of writing.  Why?  Is it difficult?  A little.  Is it time-consuming?  Absolutely.  I don't think that's why.

I think it's because it's scary.  It's scary to admit that you think that little blurt is worth editing, refining, and putting out into the world.  It's scary to put your most abstract self into the hands of strangers.  It can give you a queasy and imbalanced feeling.  Brene Brown aptly calls this a "vulnerability hangover."  You open yourself up, and even if the news is good, you get this raw, exposed feeling you can't shake.  Joni Mitchell described in an interview as all nerve-endings when she made her remarkable album Blue,  Artists must cultivate this rawness, as uncomfortable as it may be.  It's the reason for a lot of behaviour that seems erratic and abnormal.  Make best friends with your art.  Let it be the cure for the hangover.  If you commit to it, it will commit to you.

Are you interested in a series of linguistic one-night stands or do you want to master a language -- your language?  

It's no easy thing to dress up your first born, make it a brown paper lunch and put it on the bus for the first day of school.  And here's the fun part -- they are all your first born.  Each time out, it's new.  This is part of being an artist - it doesn't work if you run yourself on autopilot.

It's your gift to the world.  It's your legacy.  It's your action.  It's your way of adding what's inside your head to the larger conversation.  Listen to it.  It's asking you out on a date.  It's asking you to go steady.  It's asking if you want to spend your life with it.  Put a ring on it.

Stay committed.  Don't let the odds get you down:

(I stole the AWESOME image up top from another blog on writing - whoulda thought?  So please check out her blog, too!)

(This blog is part of a series - you can look the others up on the side, or go to the blog search and type "writing is not a Mystery" - either should work.)


Fiona said...

This was a fantastic post. I remember when I first started to edit my work - I was terrified! But it's only once you jump into it that you realise it isn't as scary as it first seemed. In fact, I even started to find it fun!

I agree with your tips on reading aloud and looking at your work with a fresh perspective. It might be hard, but simply writing a novel - or writing anything for that matter - is only the first step. I think some people don't realise how long-winded a process it is, but if you step up to the plate and embrace it, it's still a lot of fun. Or at least, that's what I've found.

E. Amato said...

Thanks for your response! I love it when people comment!

I was worried about this post - as I'm trying to shed light on the process, rather than making it more murky, and this is such a personal and slippery part of the process!

I'm glad it reached you!