Friday, July 18, 2008

A Kinder, Gentler Self-Criticism...

As writers, we are often our own worst enemy.

Plots take time (and a little trial and error) to hash out. Storylines change and evolve. Subplots need to carefully be woven into the main plot. Drafts are met with our own criticism and cynical eye. Most of us abhor our first attempts at chapters. It takes a lot of internal drive to push through the nightmare that is creative writing.

I was talking with Jeanne Barrack the other day, discussing stories and work. I mentioned my screenplay and the novel it was intended to be. She thoroughly enjoyed the basic concept and thought it would make for a good book. I, on the other hand, see the tale as riddled with problems, and the draft which hasn't been touched in over three years was, in my eyes, a catastrophe of infantile scribblings.

Then, I decided to actually reread my draft.

You know something? It wasn't half bad.

I think as a writer, I have been my own biggest obstacle. I demand perfection of myself, which doesn't come overnight. My sample chapter of a non-fiction book I've been researching is decent at best (but for something written in two days, could it really be flawless?). My novel series "wasn't good enough" to pursue, in my mind. So, more often than not, I've shelved projects before ever giving them a chance to see the light of day.

I have said so many times that this is a year of profound change for me. Perhaps this is one of those steps I need to take. Leave the criticism to the critics. Give myself the benefit of a doubt and understand that a first draft is just a first draft. Test the waters.

I forget what happens when my criticism overrides my confidence. My first book sat around for a decade before being thrown together in a matter of weeks. I have story ideas scattered on scraps of paper that have been waiting to be written since high school! My old poetry hasn't been taken out of boxes in a dozen years (and some has been lost forever in various moves).

What am I so afraid of?

That's easy: failure. But what's life without risk? Sitting on your laurels and playing it safe isn't living. I've taken risks in every aspect of my life, yet my writing seems to be the one fragment that goes untouched by the boldness. It's a slow process which I have been changing, but I need to do more.

So my latest book proposal isn't the pink of perfection. So my stories could use some polishing. So what? All of my projects can only get better. With a little diligence and some prodding, it will go somewhere. I have already taken a bold step this year, and had surprising results. The sky really is the limit... if I can place some duct tape over the lips of the doubting Thomas babbling inside my head.


Chris said...

You do have alot of talenet Kenny, you just have to accept it and relax just as much as I need to realize that I am a good person and people do care about me. (You Like Me, You Really Like Me! lol) as I am trying to do but I am always here for you and always your good friend!

Jeanne said...

Ken hit it on the head.
Writing is a weird activity. You want to communicate with someone when you put words down on papaer or screen, but whom?
There are folks who say, "Oh, I don't care if no one ever sees what I write. I write because I have to."
All well and good, but, I've always felt that these folks really aren't being totally honest with themselves.
I do think it's fear that keeps folks from finishing a story and then sending it out into the world.
I know. It took me six years before I gathered the nerve to submit a *gasp* completed ms to a publisher.
Even that was d/t an act of fate. I received encouragement from an author I knew from a totally different part of my life. I saw my contacting her as a sign of kismet. And I'm a great believer in kismet.
Right now I'm in the midst of getting my act together and submitting my work to agents. I've already received one rejection...and I'm a sensitive soul ;~D I know from experience that I'll have to grit my teeth before I try again.
But I will because I want to share my work with others.
Somehow, I think Ken has this same drive as do other readers of this blog.
What can I say?
It hurts to be rejected. But it's glorious to be read!

Cullan Hudson said...

It's like you've been slinking around in my head when you wrote this! :-D If you only knew how long I have been working on my first novel - and I'm not even working alone. We are our own worst enemies, demanding that perfection. But you know, if having waited 5 or 6 years for my novel to see the light of day means it is a far better product than if I wrote it in 3 months, then I'm happy with that. We hope it will go for a test run this winter. And I'm glad. I'm really ready to put it to bed.

Jeanne said...

Cullan, what I saw of your story impressed me. Plus the promo presence.
Good luck to you, man!

Wonder Man said...

Writing is a weird activity, but it's a process I enjoy from time to time. I just hate query letters!!