Friday, June 24, 2011

Starting Over Redux

I, like Jon, have been thinking a lot about the concept of Starting Over.

Last month I had my annual fabuloso trip to Wiscon. The Con for me was bookended by Starting Over.

My first three hours were spent in a writing workshop, offering critiques of three other women's first 10,000 words, and getting feedback from them, as well as our pro, Catherynne Valente. The session was a good one; I left it with more confirmation that what I'm trying to pull off with the three intertwined stories is extremely difficult, that I've pulled off Beryl's voice well, but the other two story lines need more polishing. For me, the harshest thing CV said was "Revise the hell out of it and then get yourself an agent."

Every time I do one of these workshops I go in thinking, alright, the novel's pretty much ready now. We'll just get that confirmed by the pro and then we'll send this bear off.

Never happens.

In the moment, when you've revised and revised and revised for years, it is a wee bit heart breaking to take in that it's not enough yet: Revise the Hell out of it! But, you know, I've always gotten through the bruise pretty quickly, more committed to writing better than I know how to. (Here I'm borrowing from Kelly Eskridge's amazing story "Dangerous Space" a meditation on gender, music, creativity, and vulnerability: "He smiled; the artist's private smile, the power and pride when the work is good. 'You know what's amazing?' he said. 'I knew I couldn't write these songs. I knew it. And then I wrote them anyway.'")

I'm sure like many writers, I don't feel as though I created my protagonist. I feel as though she's creating me; she's making me write her into being. And because I find that I'm at my most sane when I'm consistently writing, and because I really like Beryl, I feel an intense loyalty to her. Hell Yes, I will Revise The Hell Out of this thing, Beryl deserves it.

So that kind of Starting Over is good. It's good for me to feel like a brand new spark plug again, it's good for the project, it's good for Beryl.

But now we turn to the other bookend: the very last session I went to at Wiscon, and another sort of Starting Over--Jon's Starting Over. Not Starting Over as in, I'm going to revise this project again, but Starting Over as in, I'm going to set this one aside, and start a brand new project. Members of another Twin Cities Writing Group, Wyrdsmiths, made up the bulk of the panel on being a resilient writer. Kelly McCullough talked about not selling his first four (I think four) novels, but nevertheless going on, writing the next, getting better at his craft, until he final made his first sale (of many.)

Let me tell you: After this session I was depressed. Because I want this one to sell. Because I owe it to Beryl. Maybe that day will come: I've put my all into the story, I'm no longer inspired to rework it, and I realize it won't sell. Clearly I'm not there yet. But I do feel the grief that that image of the drain in Jon's blog radiates. Especially given that Jon's a great writer - even his first drafts are enviable with their attention to human emotion, getting the full feel of a scene, the smells, the textures, the tensions.

So here's to Starting Over and Starting Fresh. Hats off to you, Jon. You'll break through. You know it; we know it.


Mark Teats said...

Nice post, Lisa.
Writing (and rewriting) is such hard work. My own personal starting over has been on the ending of my book BLACKHEART for the last month or so. There are some big changes I'm trying to do that aren't coming easy. Hopefully at some point it will "click" and all the hard work will be worth it.
Hang in there--and keep on writing!

Jon said...

Thanks, Lisa. Great post. Don't you give up either.