Monday, October 11, 2010

THIS IS WHY I NEED TO GO TO GRAD SCHOOL

    I just picked up a copy of my book (draft, not published, obvs, or else I would totally be at a booksigning and have air conditioning in my car) from a friend who was sweet enough to read and give me beta feedback on it.  And I've seen enough critiques that I can read between the lines: basically, she liked it, it was entertaining and well-written, but that was all.  There was no "this sticks with me" factor.  A lot of her comments were "I love this paragraph, I wish more of the book was like this!" on the sections of the book that were more emotional and compelling.
   Which is fine.
   The first draft of this book was a f*cking hot mess of emotional vomit re: The Road Trip which I chronicled as I was going through it; before I rewrote it I sat on it for a year and a half in order to get enough distance from it.  It needed cleaning.  Over the summer I cut everything that wasn't strictly plot-relevant, rewrote it all in the past tense, and turned it into an actual story with a real plot.
    But I've had a sinking sort of feeling lately that in doing that, I also cut a lot of the emotional urgency out of it.  And this copy with my friend's notes confirms it.
    The first draft made a different friend depressed for four days after reading it because she was dealing with the same issues in her life.  I wasn't glad it upset her so much, but I was glad that my writing had that kind of emotional resonance.
    This is supposed to be a story about how I went from being a lost 21-year old who thought the men in my life could give me the answers I needed to being a self-contained, if still somewhat blurry-edged, woman who knew that whatever I wanted I had to bring myself.
    But now, it's just kind of a story about a road trip I went on.
    Which is fun.
    But it's not the story that I had needed to tell.  It's not the one I want to give to my friend's sister-in-law, a lost eighteen year-old who isn't quite sure how to handle all the changes in her life.
  
   So, obviously I have to rewrite it.  And somehow, four years later, I have to find a way to reintegrate the pain and frustration of not knowing who I was, and also the joy and heartache of figuring it out, into a perfectly functional draft.

   IS THERE ANYONE OUT THERE WHO ACTUALLY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS?!!

2 comments:

  1. I think that this post offers some insights into your post on "performance anxiety." Because, ultimately, you do care what other people think and want some affirmation that you are doing it right. That the emotions and story that you are trying to convey are indeed being conveyed.

    My advisor was telling me that he realized that he was in the right field during grad school when it occurred to him that, even if he didn't get a postdoc, didn't get a faculty position, didn't get funding, didn't get tenure, etc, etc, he could (and would) still setup an experimental lab in his garage and do science on the weekends. That is passion. Its about prioritizing the process and the experience over the outcomes and the approval of others.

    That said, your performance anxiety seems to be tied to what you've posted here. Its not just that you love to write (the process), but that you want to know that you write well. But I would argue that you need the former for the latter and to give up the former in pursuit of the latter can only fail (for yourself, at least, even if it does produce a bestseller and gets you into Oprah's book club).

    Any composition, design, or creation... anything that is produced with Quality, must be created iteratively. Unless you are going for the "ragged spontaneous" genre, of course, but even that requires an iterative process of experiential production (i.e., to learn to improvise, one must repeatedly attempt to establish the context and conditions necessary to improvise well). You already have some outcomes that you want with this story, but you've only been able to frame them in terms of "this version is missing X." You've hit the wall on each side and you have a clearer vision of what you want it to be in the end. It sounds to me like you are in pretty good shape.

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  2. Thanks, Justin! You always manage to turn my neurotic babble into proof that I'm well-adjusted :)

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