Monday, June 13, 2011

Quality is a Dead Loss

I was not happy with Saturday's post.  I felt a little sluggish that day and I did not feel I'd done enough thinking and organizing before writing the post.  It did not flow.  It felt more intransigent than I would have liked.  I don't think it caught the correct mood, or that it said what I wanted to say.

That's how it goes sometimes.  We want to be better writers, but some days the mind is not as sharp as it could be.  Some days we are distracted.  Some days the words don't come.  It doesn't matter how long you've written or how good you are, you're subject to your environment and your quality of being.

Thankfully, there's editing.  That's a subject I want to get into this week, along with more about the setting, but for now I just want to reassure the reader that no matter how bad the stuff you've just written seems to be, within the hack and the blabber there remains the central nugget of what you were trying to say in the first place.  Words can be changed, sentences restructured, new points added or old points wiped from existence.  You are the god of your work.  When things get real bad, don't hesitate to bring a flood and wash everything clean.

There is an agenda to editing, and an agenda to this blog, which I have yet to talk about it.  If you will say that you want to be a better writer, then you are saying there is a difference between bad writing and good writing.  But what is 'bad' writing?  What is 'good' writing?  Who gets to say?

Nothing could be easier.  You do.  You get to say.  For ourselves, we all do.  Anything you're willing to dedicate time to read, that gives you a sense of satisfaction or which compels you to sacrifice other things in order to spend time reading, that's good writing.  People will attempt to assign all kinds of measures and dictates about good and bad writing.  You will read some on this blog, since the need to find a formula that aids in determining between good and bad is a disease that all writers to some degree suffer from.  The reason for that is obvious.

Unfortunately, you will never really know if you are a good writer.  You cannot measure it by your willingness to read your own stuff, or by your sense of satisfaction.  You are too invested.  And so however you try to compare what you write with what you read, you won't be able to do it.

Of course, some writers simply assume a mantle of unquestioning ego regarding their writing.  I know something about that.  Having a big ego will get you past a lot of the criticism you'll receive, it will keep you writing and it will help with those saturdays when you feel all you can write is sludge.  You'll attribute it to other things, like distraction and exhaustion.

Deep in your heart, however, you won't feel so sure.

I will leave the reader with a story from Kurt Vonnegut that he recounts in Foma, Granfalloons and Wampeters, a collection of stories, essays and speeches from those days when Vonnegut was virtually a god upon the American campus.  In it he describes being on a bus, and seeing a woman reading one of his books.  Vonnegut observed that the woman was near a point in the book where he'd written what he considered a very good joke, and he decided to wait until she came to that point.  In fact, he remained on the bus well past his stop in order to see her reaction.  But when she came to the joke, her face did not crack so much as a smile.

Vonnegut's point of the story is my point.  You may think you're a genius, but the woman on the bus is just reading, for her, an ordinary story.  She doesn't know who you are.  She doesn't know how hard you're working.  And all you can do is keep quiet about it, enjoy what empty adulation you do receive and know that you will never be the writer in someone else's head that you are in your own.

Try not to let that worry you.  Try to write out what you can, try not to give too much importance to what others tell you to write or not write (as I did on Saturday) and try to enjoy what you're doing.  It's all you've got.  And when you try to be a better writer, and when you get advice about it, listen carefully, take from it what you can, and then go write whatever you want.

No matter what anybody says.

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