Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Surprise: It isn't about you

When you first set foot on the trail, hesitant in the same way a bicyclist is hesitant when riding on a narrow, crowded street, you wished to show off your understanding if not your mastery of the techniques you believed were the conventional techniques used to demonstrate an understanding of what went into a story and what did not.

Like that same metaphorical bicyclist from the previous paragraph, you felt you had enough of a sense of balance to try a few tricks, equivalents of not holding the handlebars, perhaps even the literary equivalent of rolling through stop signs, even popping a wheelie.  Now that you look back on your younger self, you realize much of it was about you and your wish to show off rather than experience the thrill of the ride.  You were more interested in acquisition of, then demonstrating the acquisition of technique rather than withdrawing your callow ass from the scene as you allow the characters to take over, leading you but also the readers to a destination they might find entertaining or shocking or funny or some manner of revelatory.

Your public persona probably doesn't know as much about the work at hand as you like to think it does or, to take it a plateau or two upward, you probably don't know as much about writing as you have presumed to know in your published work about writing and literature.  You've reached a place where it isn't so much about what your public persona knows or doesn't know as it is about how well your private persona is keeping up with your public persons.

To come to the point,it is not at all about you, public or private; it is about them,the characters and concepts you bring forth, and the freedom you are willing to give them.  You have written and lectured endlessly about the obsessive and compulsive natures of the writing persona; you have paid only modest lip service to the control-freak nature of most writers, yourself included.

The beginning writer treats sincere editorial suggestion as an affront, a direct personal attack:  You never liked my work.  The accomplished writer welcomes editorial vision and suggestion.  Even if the suggestion is not taken, the fact of it being given at a particular point sends the clear message that a trained eye has found a soft spot, a place where less is needed so that the truth stands out in bold relief.
The emerging writer treats editorial commentary as though it were a thesis committee,challenging the methodology, sources, and intellectual arc of the thesis.  Small wonder many beginning writers are able to convince themselves that there is an ongoing conspiracy against them that will be kept in force until there is, by some magical transmutation of base elements into gold, a radical combustion.  As you read between the lines, which is to say the personal letters, of a number of prominent authors, you will find them carping away at critics,publishers, and literary agents, even to the point at times of taking on readers for having had the gall to dislike a particular work.

Confident writers--confident artists of any stripe--are rare.  Anxious artists are continuously comparing themselves to writers whose success mystifies, even baffles them, directing their frustrations--wrongly, you argue--against the public, reverting to thinking it is about them again and damn the public's stupidity for not seeing who the true artist is.

The confident writer trusts the characters, says in so many words and in so many refreshing ways, It isn't about me; it's all about them.

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