Tuesday, July 06, 2004

Starting Over

I'm very agitated right now. Restless. Easily provoked. A combination of boredom and frustration and, well frankly, friskyness. Like "T-N-T", as my earlier AC/DC reference stated.

So I shall avoid all incendiary subjects like war or politics or best CDs of the 90's (see Michele for that), by looking at something that both soothes (in general) and frustrates me (in specific)--revisions.

I read a really simple but dead-on accurate quote yesterday, from the great King himself: "Only God gets it right the first time."

Writerly types like to crank out a poem or story or epic novel, and then think it's done. It's perfect as it is. No need to change more than a comma or two. We often don't like editing. We think every scene is important, every description is rife with symbolism, every dialogue is brimming with import and drama. I'm this way. But most of the time, every first draft needs a good butchering. Cut away the fat, get to the unmarbled red of it all.

When I finish any creative work (which is becoming alarmingly rare these days), I have a hard time placing it on the cutting board, pulling out my teacher's pen, and making my darling bleed with every stroke.

But sometimes we must do that. We have to cut the cord, so the child can be born, wash away all the unnecessary elements that helped it gestate, and clean it up so it can grow.

And sometimes, we have to kill our darling little stories and poems. And it hurts us as much as it hurts them.

I began writing a novel when i was in school. A little quest epic, a medieval fantasy, equal parts Narnia and "The Eyes of the Dragon." Heavy religious undertones. Predictable but entertaining (in my opinion, anyway). I got nine chapters in, and then stopped. I don't know why. School, theatre, girls--any number of reasons, I suppose. But I never got back to it. It's still in my desk drawer. Thirty pages of narrative, an unfinished quest, an untested hero, and an undefeated villain.

I don't remember the quote, but I'm fairly sure that it was Annie Dillard who talked about writers being made up of their experiences. That a story you begin writing today will be finished by a different person tomorrow. And it's absolutely true. Which is why I can't finish my book, such as it is. Because I am a stranger to the idealistic young man who began it, a boy so full of dogma and ideology, so militaristic in his religious zeal. I'm no less fervent, but my righteous indignation, such as it is, is more evenly spread around the table, at both the "just" and "unjust."

I've looked at the story since, and blushed from shame. So many errors, "hundreds, almost thousands, of adverbs" (as King would gasp), and a cliche-riddled quasi-hero, buckling under his own rhetoric. But beneath the dust and love, beneath the mistakes of a student striving for "literature", is the skeleton of a story I still believe in, a story I still feel called to write.

Yes, called. There have been countless discussions of the "will of God" and to what degree of specificity it's applied to each human life. Well, I know (for my belief is full) that I'm supposed to be a writer, and I just as fully know that, if nothing else, I'm supposed to at least finish one story in my lifetime. The story of Warren, who is called Ezeki, who makes his stand against a world aligned to destroy him.

And the critical voices that have told me in the past that I can put off writing until later, that I should just take it easy--these voices tell me that the story is a waste of time. Even now, as I type, they snicker at the last paragraph, they call it cheesy and cliched and foolish. Why should you waste your time writing the predictable religious fiction you have railed against for so long? Why should you give up pursuing a possibly successful mainstream career to run after so ridiculous a goal?

Because I must. Because this is what I was made to do.

I will put the nine chapters away. I will collect my notes, my torn half-sheets, my lines scribbled on paper napkins and church handouts, in a bundle. I will hit "New" on the Microsoft Word screen. And I will begin again.

And when it's all done, I'll revise. I'll refine. I'll pound out the pure bleeding red of the story I was born to tell, cutting away the white that doesn't fit.

I'm determined to finish my own quest. And I will strive to do so.

Very soon.

No comments: