Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Lessons from the Revision Desk

Part 2: Sometimes It's Just You

There comes a time in every artist's life when the notes inside a well-meant critique will hit us the wrong way. A line we love will be reduced to cliche. A beta reader will cringe at wording we thought was clever or inspired.

It stings.

For some of us, it might spark the dreaded I'll-never-write-again-this-will-be-the-death-of-me head space. For others, it might bring about a snarling cursing match with the paper.

Those of us who are meant to will move past this, reaching for our calming ritual of choice and examining the advice a second or third (or dozenth) time. Often, this revisit is enough to convince us of the validity of the hated critique, and work may resume.

Occasionally, we'll come across that rare moment when the problem isn't the work. It's us.

The "problem" isn't so much a flaw of craft as it is a quirk of voice or style (perhaps in need of refinement). There will always be individuals who don't like our unique brand of expression. And there will always be individual aspects of our brand that avid fans will wish didn't exist. There's no need to sand ourselves down trying to please every dissenter, even as it is important to undergo polish to become what we were meant to be.

This is true of the selves we keep when we leave the desk.

Our planet would be a dry place if humanity was a monolith. Yet we are blasted on all sides by messages demanding we conform to this or that ideal. We are urged to curb our own needs in order to please a faceless hive lord who claims the pieces of our core can only manifest in a binary.

There is a reason the visible spectrum has seven themes and endless variations on those themes.

Embracing our own voice doesn't require us to disregard all outside influence and trudge ahead only as we please. It forces us to be responsible for the flavor we bring to those influences. It makes us both our own creators and our only unfinished project (remaining incomplete by design). It necessitates that we grow to prevent stagnation and boredom.

Cultivating our voice requires us to read our own minds instead of looking to others to do it for us. In the beginning, there will be no plan, only a desired destination.

But isn't that what vision is for?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Lessons From the Revision Desk

Part 1: Loving Something Doesn't Make it Good

This is probably the hardest lesson a writer has to learn when it comes to making a piece shine. As we go along, typing that first draft, we'll fall in love with certain paragraphs or scenes. We'll snicker as we re-read those beloved lines, proud of our wit.

These words may make us feel good about our skill. They may make us believe in ourselves even when the hard pushes come, even when it feels like we'll never put another productive word on the page.

Then the revision stage arrives.

We take out the red pen, put on our ruthless hats, and get to work.

And, in the light of a new day, our favorite scene doesn't seem so shiny anymore. The jokes that made us giggle and bolstered our spirits seem trite and unoriginal. The cute interaction between characters does nothing to drive the story. Witty sentences become awkward to the point we forgot what their purpose was.

So they have to go...because they're hurting the piece.

The same could be said of things we're clinging to outside our writing.

Trips to the coffee shop that result in more pastry than productivity. Friends who demand more of us than is healthy to give. Lovers who expect much and give little. Online interactions that steal our energy and depress us. Pretty shoes that pinch or harm our muscles.

In the end, we have to think about us first, about our needs.

Don't mistake me. I'm not talking about neglecting a friend to indulge a pleasurable pursuit. I'm not talking about ignoring a responsibility in favor of a fleeting fancy. I'm not talking about sacrificing family for unnecessary monetary gains.

I'm talking about removing people from our lives who refuse to respect our boundaries, who refuse to value our time. I'm talking about axing the things from our lives that make it harder for us to be happy and healthy. I'm talking about fulfilling the parts of ourselves that need nurturing.

This means coming to an understanding of what we each really need. It means understanding who we are as individuals. It means allowing ourselves to be different. It means looking inside ourselves and using the cave drawings there to tell us what we really need, what desires would make us happy.

And doing so can be hard work, just like cutting up something we spent months creating.

But it will be worth the struggle.