Darkness, and the delete button

You thought it was a great idea. Everything seemed to flow so well and make so much sense when you wrote it. But then you finished writing and re-read it. What happened in the meantime? How did those beautiful words become this? Where did all the warts and blemishes come from? Flaws, mistakes, holes, detritus, flotsam, waste. This is not an aesthetic wabisabi, there is no grace in imperfection here – it’s just plain ugly. Disgust sets in and a certain button glistening there on the top right of your keyboard calls. But then you wonder: Is the text actually fixable? Is the core idea salvageable? Are the characters still with us or have they been put on life support, the pinging of their breathing apparatuses growing ever more faint and far between? Your index finger moves, then pauses, you take a breath, you close the file, and you walk away. To be continued.

Storm clouds. They strike all of us. In last week’s post we considered writing’s seasons and there is no doubt that winter is a long and bleak one. The bigger the project they harder it falls, as Jimmy Cliff might have sung had he been slightly differently artistically inclined. This seems especially true when we are nearing the end of yet another round of editing and can no longer even see straight, let alone think straight. Is there anything of real quality there? Perfection is what we desire yet perfection can never be had. Never. Nor will our shining diamond ever appear as much more than a lump of carbon to us. Inadequacy itself. But to the reader? That, there, is the rub.

When depression has really set in and the twelve bottles of wine that were meant to shine a spotlight on the hidden brilliance of the project have instead made us want to retch all over it, the time has come to show the work in progress to someone else. Preferably someone trustworthy but not kind enough to just tell us what we want to hear. Such people can be very hard to find, but often the mere act of thinking along those lines will somehow conjure up a name. How much to share with them? Just the structure? Only the overall plot idea? Sections that we’ve found particularly troublesome? A whole chapter? Whole book? There can be no guidelines here other than intuition and situational considerations. The feedback we receive might kill our project, or it might give it a new life. It might even demonstrate how there had been life there all along, but we were simply in too deep to see it.

And that, really, is after all where we live: in too deep. Our works consume us to the point that nothing else makes sense, or seems even worth thinking about. We are creators and so we are obsessed by our creations, and cutting a line between time on and time off hardly seems possible. How will it feel to actually be done with a project? To be satisfied with it? Can a writer ever really be satisfied? The history of our field seems to suggest not; yet here we are, trudging on with our glum faces to the wind and tired eyes squinting at the horizon. Dawn will come, they tell us, a new day will arrive and with it a fresh perspective, an illuminating glow. Let’s hope so. In the meantime, when the muses have gone silent and the words that have been piled up so high appear more like the city dump than anything else, all we can do is stop and wait. The work might indeed be destined for the trash, but not yet, not yet. Give it a chance, give it another set of eyes willing to scan it over, consider it, weigh it. That tiny button on the top right of your keyboard will still be there later if you do actually need it. Let’s pray not though. The writing life is a life only half-lived as it is, at least let’s leave something to show for it – no matter who is looking.

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One Comment

  1. Paul j Rogers
    Posted July 28, 2017 at 5:23 am | Permalink

    When you’re in deep, a couple of weeks away from the project — and I mean totally away — are not just a good idea, they are absolutely necessary.

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