Monday, February 24, 2014

Musings on process and result

I kind of hate to put a post up that will "override" the one inviting you all to come to Left Coast Crime to hear me talk on various panels (and get a chance to win one of my books FREE, or get bookmarks and pens anyhow). But I was talking with another artist about process and results, and I thought our convo was worth sharing.

She's focused on process more than results. She says she knows her art (painting sets for the theater, doing small paintings or sketches for individuals, and the like) is ephemeral, but it doesn't bother her. She writes:

"It's not the legacy but the execution, the actual doing, that gives me zen."

This is a great orientation. I somehow got the "make something that lasts and possibly outlasts you" gene. I think that when my cousins (the boys, anyway) used to take my crayon drawings and tear them up off the fridge, I got the impression that I didn't like working hard on something that there was only one copy of and that didn't even get seen by my grandmother before it got destroyed. Although I do enjoy the process of creating!

If we didn't love the process, we couldn't do it. We'd be like that raging bull guy in the construction business who can't stand his job because he has to be up on the broiling roof all day.

Writing a novel is part puzzle, part planning, part flying by the seat of your pants, and part listening for the Muse in case she decides to sing a while. The good passages in my books are when the Muse approved and began to hum. Very occasionally she busts into song ("bursts" is just not the Texan way to phrase it). Those are the great parts that people quote on Goodreads.

I have never believed the misguided advice in workshops to "kill your darlings," BTW. That would be silly. You must take out extraneous, redundant, silly, self-indulgent, incoherent, and politically incorrect stuff in the second/third/X-th pass. But your great passages, as long as they reveal character, move the story forward (or at least don't stall for too long--if they're really philosophical and insightful and shed light on the eternal human condition), help readers visualize setting or other important images, or drop hints about the tone/mood of the book to come, should stay. Those are the true darlings, and we should appreciate them! Because all around them are our clunky old bits that we can't improve any further, and we need the cadenced stuff for the reward.

Perhaps instead of the "kill your darlings" catchphrase (which is self-consciously clever and kind of obnoxious), they ought to say, "lose the self-indulgent parts--you know what we mean." They ought to point out that you should lose the stuff that is an inside joke, that makes you look clever when the character is not, or that is totally irrelevant to the story or to character development but is a cool factoid that you are dying to have readers know. THAT is the stuff to lose in the polishing draft stage.

I started out as a little BITTY kid wanting to be an actress, partly because I thought the actors made up their lines (I mean when it wasn't improv--on TV sitcoms and everywhere else). But then I discovered (1) I wasn't the ingenue type, but always played the character actress parts (read "old, fat, or ugly, or the harridan, or the one who has a couple of scenes of comic relief that has the audience screaming and crying, but it only lasts a couple of minutes on the stage), and (2) I had a bit of paralyzing stage fright at the most inconvenient times. So I went into the wings and started scribbling! LOL

In other news, today I got the galley proofs of APRIL, MAYBE JUNE, and the graphics and styling are AWE-INSPIRING. The book looks great! All I have to do now is read it over and see if there are any typos (which would have been introduced during editing, naturally) or glitches, check to make sure they didn't touch my commas and semicolons, and generally find any problems. By Thursday morning. That's so we can get books by the Left Coast conference. Whew!

I'd better get to reading!

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