Sunday, May 6, 2012

First Blush


A writing project is like a romantic relationship.  When you first hook up and the fire works are ricocheting around your brainpan, the end result seems so extraordinary, so explosive with promise and the sense of at last settling down upon you.  At last you’ve made the connection that won’t go forth like a surveying team spray-painting boundary markers on the pavement.

In the excitement, you of course wish to spend as much time together as possible, sometimes not at actual work so much as thinking over the work and the plans for how things will go down.

During such moments, you see flashes of past mistakes, past arguments and betrayals.  In your confidence from the energy of this one, you resolve not to make any of those.  You’ll make mistakes, of course, and have arguments, but these errors and confrontations will be mediated by your past experience.  You understand how you no longer seek the perfection you thought to achieve when you were just starting with first romances and first stories.

At such times, you recall those rash months and years of rushing things through, sometimes staying up on coffee in order to get the handle on the next novel because, you’d finished the previous one around noon, had a lovely, celebratory lunch, and needed to get a jump on the next—anything to keep you from having to resort to a series of dreadful, boring jobs.  In your wonderment, you ask yourself if those days had a serious impact on you extending beyond the sense of burnout.

There is a point where something has to be rewritten, recast, possibly to the point of being conflated with something you once thought capable of standing on its own.

There is no telling how many times you’ll feel the need to rewrite something, edging it closer to that ricochet of fireworks feeling you started with, but however many it takes, you are up for it because, to be frank, you jones on the feeling and wish to recapture it, giving it an added factor of respect.

Your agent has been editorial director at major houses.  Any number of her former employees  have solid positions now, having grow in the job to the point where they have assistants.  She may make a suggestion.  The suggestion may rile you.  You make coffee in your Bialetti.  You walk around the block.  You listen to Ravel or Mozart or Fred Hersch or Bill Evans.  You revise.  Again.

Now the editor wants something.  You are amazed the editor could find anything.  You are riled to think there was something to be found.  Out with the Bialetti.  Perhaps Gershwin this time or Miles Davis or Bach or Haydn.  Or.

You revise again, in the process finding things you may indeed have missed and that no one else has caught.

Over the years, you’ve heard writers complain because some professional thought their opening was soft or, worse, nonexistent.  Who’s the storyteller? they seem to be asking, the editors or me?

They don’t revise.  They grow bitter and tired instead of frustrated and impatient, which is, after all, what a writer is supposed to be.  You are frustrated because the work is not coming as quickly as you’d hoped, based on the early pillow talk between the two of you.

You have a number of Bialetti coffee makers, a number of compact discs, a comfortable-but-by-no-means—large list of tunes on your iPhone and computer.  You have the mechanism built in to cope with the revisions, at least to the point where listening and considering are options.

The old saw about writing being rewriting has achieved old saw status in large measure due to its inherent truth, but also in the package, writing is listening, making another cup of coffee, going for a walk around the block, listening to music—after you have done the writing and the listening.


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