21 June, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Giving Yourself Permission to Suck

I've probably gone on about this subject before, but it bears repeating: with a few incredibly rare exceptions, a written work does not emerge whole and complete and beautiful on the first go.  We writers are not Zeus, and our stories are not Athena, sprung fully-formed from our foreheads.

This can be hard to remember when staring at a blank page with your Inner Editor screaming "You must be instantly perfect!" in the background.

Allow me to allow you to eavesdrop on just such a conversation I had the other night with my own Inner Editor, whose sadism is second only to that of my Muse:
Me: [staring at blank page] I wonder how this scene should start.

Inner Editor: [shouting] You've already started with landings too many times!  The story must move!  There should be action!  If you screw this up, no reader will read anything by you ever again in the whole of eternity!

Me: Dude, that's not helping.

Inner Editor: [still shouting] Where is this scene going?  What is its purpose?  What is its dramatic tension?

Me: [looking up pictures of Mediterranean trees and pretty vugs in limestone on the intertoobz] HellifIknow.  I just started the damned scene, you jackass.  Actually, I haven't started the damned scene, because you won't STFU.

Inner Editor: [screaming] There must be a hook!  There must be a reason!  Why are you wasting your time on trees and vugs which will only have to be cut out later?!

Me: [looking up sphalerite on Wikipedia] Because I need a good feel for this place, and because I'm hoping you'll get bored and go away.

(Eventually, the scene starts.  There is a lingering in a grove, and a lizard, and a nice vug in limestone, with trees looming overhead.)

Inner Editor: [flecks of spittle flying] No one will want to read this! It's boring! It has no tension, no action, it does nothing to further the story!

Me: [looking up calcite on Wikipedia and then chasing after scalenohedra]  Yes, well, I'm writing my way in, aren't I?

Inner Editor: [tearing out handfuls of hair] No one will even know what scalenohedra means!

Me: So?  I do.  Now.  And isn't this the bit you're insisting we'll have to cut later anyway?

Inner Editor: [apoplexy imminent] That is no excuse for writing badly!

Me: Dude, it's fan fiction.  The whole point of writing fan fiction was to get you off my back while I have a good romp through my world and poke in a bunch of crannies.  It's never going to be revised, much less published, much less even shown to anyone except Garrett and he'll think the techonobabble fits the character anyway.  So go the fuck away so I can get everybody out of this copse of trees and on to the action.

Inner Editor: [veins in neck exploding] But - but- but -

Me: Fan.  Fiction.

Inner Editor: ....
Only mostly dead, alas, but at least we got some brief peace.  And I went on to enjoy the company of a sexually-confused lizard, wander through a lovely little valley and vineyard, and find out about one of the most badass women in Xtalean history.  I can't wait to introduce my readers to her.

Is what I wrote that night perfect?  No.  Not even close.  But the point is, it doesn't have to be.  It's words on a page that I didn't have before, a person and a place I didn't know until now.  Time and rewrites (although not of this particular work) will take care of teh suck.  That goes for academic writing as well.

So, when faced with that blank page, give yourself permission to suck.  Not only that, give yourself permission to suck so badly that you'll be contacting a computer consultant to wipe all traces of the first draft off your computer.  Invest in duct tape for your Inner Editor, and, should that not work, engage in a little justifiable homicide.  And then just get on with it.  Get sidetracked, go off on tangents, let the story lead you around like a very confused, easily distracted, yet very enthusiastic small child.  Because, and this is the important thing, there will always be a gem among the dross, and there will always be some way of fixing it, if not on the second go, then on Rewrite #42.  Even if you throw very nearly every word away, you've at least had the pleasurable experience of telling your dread Inner Editor to go suck it.

Go forth and write.

1 comment:

Karen said...

Dana, you encourage me. Alas, what I'm writing is a thesis, and my Internal Editor has seen so many corrections from my advisor that I can hear him speaking with Advisor's voice... but I shall prevail, and make something that is not perfect (sorry, Dave) but says what *I* want to say.