Friday, July 23, 2010

When opening the manuscript is like opening a vein... and other writing neuroses.

I remember sitting in Mrs. Delzell's class my senior year of high school and, in the middle of a class discussion, (no, I don't remember the topic) one of my classmates turned to me, made a disgusted face, and said, "Geez, Shawna, do you have to analyze everything???"

Nineteen year later I have realized that, yes--I do have to analyze everything. I am a freak. I'll admit it. I not only analyze everything, I over-analyze everything. I'd like to think of my need to examine issues from various angles as a strength--that I am "analytical"--cuz that sounds like a smart-person thing. And I love, love, love to sound like a smart person. It just feels nice. But "analytical" also sounds sort of like a suit-wearing, math-person thing, and I am SO not that. I'm an artsy-fartsy creative type; I'm mostly ruled by my emotions. I'm an over-thinker. Just not usually about the sorts of things that could do anyone any good.

Although I apply this strange sickness to all areas of my life and relationships, my writing is the most frequent victim of this analytical, second-guessing neurosis. For example: Something I thought beautiful and moving yesterday... well, today I may edit the heart right out of it. On the other hand, something which is truly crap might have bathed in the lying light of "Oh, my genius muse!" the day before. It kinda sucks.

I am my worst critic. Wait--am I? Maybe I should think about it from another angle....

I've had countless days where I make the mistake of reading something in a bad mood and decide I should consider applying for a job at McDonald's instead of inflicting one more word upon my poor readers. Are all writers this insecure, or just us artsy-fartsy types? Yet I have two completed novels just waiting for an editor's summons within my hard drive.

Since writing those first two books my craft has improved--a lot. I've added more tools to my chest, more cookies to my jar, more... well, you get the idea. I've also added to my file a whole pile of rejection letters. These letters, and the fact that my road to publication has detoured waayyy off course leads me to believe that, while the McDonald's thing might have some merit, I am better than I was when I wrote the first book. So maybe, instead of me saying "I have two completed novels" I need to admit that, until it sells, it's still just a DRAFT of a novel. Forget that the one on the hard drive is draft number seven-hundred-and-forty-six. There is, obviously, more work to do. And I know--I know I am a better writer now than I was when I printed that "final" draft. I've worked hard to become so.

So where does that leave me? And where does that leave my manuscripts? Well, it looks like, and by the way I spent my day today, feels like I've headed straight back into the blood-letting realms of The Massive Re-Write.

You think I'm being dramatic? Well, I'm not. I mean, really. Would you pull out your child's eyelashes one by one so her vision was less impaired? Could you cut off one of your child's fingers to make her grip tighter? Well, that's how it feels sometimes when I am forced to revisit these books I've birthed with THE DRIPPING RED SCALPEL OF NOW-IT'S-WRITTEN, GET-IT-RIGHT.

Over-dramatic? Me?


Okay, sometimes.
But I'll tell you one thing...

I'm going to analyze the snot out of these pages. I might even get snot on these pages, cuz it hurts to cut so deeply. But it will make them stronger. Better. Cleaner.

Yep, I'm going to analyze EVERYTHING. I'm going to force myself to remember back to where it began and where it took me. I'm going to pray that the heart and soul of this novel--and the passion and purpose it drew out of me when it first revealed its divine spark--survives the amputations and the series of reconstructive surgeries it needs in order to come out of the anesthesia of the slush pile and awaken into a tighter, cleaner realm of truth and beauty and, maybe even, publication.

After all, isn't that what the hard times are for? The crucible for silver, the furnace for gold, and there will be beauty for ashes in THE END.


Joy Tamsin David said...

LOLing again this morning.

I think you might be my favorite blogger.

Brandon said...

I hear you!
When you've been working on the same story for so long, you want to be done and finished!

Editing can be fun, but after the 100th time, it starts loosing that appeal :)

Tracy Krauss said...

You go girl!