10.07.2010

The Rough and Polished

When I first started this writing program I'm studying, I knew I would have to put aside one of my natural, gut-instinct reactions. The reaction to drop a hobby or interest as soon as it became work.

Discipline and effort usually turn anything lighthearted and pleasant into a bore and a duty. Nothing does it faster than repetition. Alas, I knew that with some effort on my part, and a little attitude adjustment, I would be able to both light my internal fire (creativity to write) and apply some discipline and effort (pass my course!) to my writing. My goal, after all, was to develop useful and interesting writing pieces, that, if nothing more, would satisfy assignment requirements.

And so it was, that I eventually created a piece or two of writing, through my first several assignments, and prodding from my professor (and advisor--she's both in my case) that could pass for interesting. Now, my professor and I knew these writing pieces had quite a healthy bit of room to evolve. But with the continued encouragement (instigation?) from my professor, I polished a little and submitted two pieces to the literary magazine.

Of course, once you begin polishing, you realize that it could turn into a never-ending task. I worked against what I estimated was the aesthetic or style, or quality even, that the editorial board would look for. So after all the effort, one of my pieces, the better one in my own view, was accepted. I was elated. Nervous, but elated.

I wasn't as elated, however, a couple of months later, when the editors got in touch with me with revisions. Nor was I elated when they came back a short time later and said the piece needed a completely new ending. So without as much enthusiasm, I began reading through the piece. It now felt removed. Like a hazy memory. Not much time had elapsed between when I first wrote the piece in late summer, to the late autumn when they were editing it. What made it feel a little removed, was that the piece had changed in key areas.

Probably unnoticeable to the untrained eye--insert tongue firmly in cheek here--or rather, to someone other than me, was that some nooks and crannies that helped me anchor myself in the story were no longer there. These details weren't there anymore or had been polished to a blinding shine. The rough corners that I lovingly felt for as I read and reread my story during the revisions, had now become smooth and polished, shiny and new. I longed for the lost intimacy as I read the revised piece that now lay before me on my laptop screen.

Was the soul of the piece still there? It was a professional piece thanks to the dutiful editing by the board, but it wasn't "my piece" as much anymore. But that's ok, I told myself. I knew that to "sell" a piece of writing you end up tweaking, revising, editing, rewriting...The expert hands that create those polished edges know that, even though the piece becomes slippery to the author's original memory, polishing actually works to anchor the elusive reader and his attention span.

My piece was given a much-needed shot of botox. So what's the hang up? Move on already.

I've become aware of a change I've gone through as I journey through the writing program. I realized my attitude needed adjusting, I embraced the change, I met requirements, and I can now say that I appreciate the structure and discipline as a result. So I have adapted. But there's also a side of me that rejects that structure. The countercultural anarchist in me is fidgeting. Is this the famous chip on the shoulder that many writers get? Those anti-social, unsuccessful, cynic writers known to reside (mostly) in New York. The ones guests at parties avoid in corners, or near the buffet table.

Let's admit it, my piece is not that good, nor my ego that grandiose. No, what I think happened, is that I became overly smitten with the initial process when a story first emerges out of you. The flow. The rough cut. The "at least loving and having lost is better than not having loved at all" spiel.

I love blogging because you spew and spit-polish.  It's rough and raw sometimes. But it's there. It didn't freeze up in your mind's throat. Nor did it get discarded by your inner critic--that cruel and most exacting of all nazis.

This sense of being infatuated with the piece being crafted helps writers carry through the labor of the various evolutions, drafts, rewrites, and revisions until the piece is polished to perfection. But the piece is not the only thing that emerges polished. The writer also emerges changed. Writing is a labor of love, which helps the writer grow up a little more with each cathartic journey.

The rough associations your mind makes as your story's unfolding before you...is...well, decadent. It's like a little in-joke. That's how you grow fond of what you're writing. You grow familiar and intimate with every nook and cranny. Your mind reaches out from you to massage the story and lay it out.  When you lay out for yourself what's behind the door and outside the window...you're then privy to something which your reader will never know or see or feel or taste. At least not like you can.

It's then up to you, as the craftsman, to take on the responsibility...the duty even, of polishing and evolving a piece into all that it's meant to be. It's a challenge that sometimes we take on fully armed and with gusto, and yet that at other times we flee from and avoid in its entirety. But it's the choice of writing down either the rough or pursue the polished that lays the stepping stones on the journey of being a writer.