Thursday, June 13, 2013

On sharing the creative object you've been working on

When I was about 22 I started working on a novel.  I've mentioned it here from time to time with varying degrees of clarity about what I was up to, because even now, 16 years later, I still work on the thing, hoping to finish one day.

and I mourn the fact it will not have a cover by Robert Maguire

I mention the book for two reasons.

1.  I like to retain transparency, so I'll share that part of why I'm going on hiatus is to focus back on the book.  My personal life, work and a confluence of events have often kept me from spending my time just finishing the darn thing.  I like writing, and I like blogging, but as well as re-charging my batteries to talk pop-culture when I get back, I'd like to make time for this project.

2.  Wednesday evening pal JuanD was good enough to join me for dinner.  He'd read a good chunk of the book as it is to date.  I figure I've got at least 1/3rd to go.  He's still got some pages left to arrive at the point where I've written to, but he made a heroic effort.  He's read, I guess 2/5th's - 1/2 of where this is all headed.  And then, he was kind/ brave enough to sit across the table from me and tell me what he thought and ask questions.

He did some things I really appreciate.

  • He didn't ask me to rewrite the story so it would be something he would write.
  • He took pretty meticulous notes while going through the book.
  • He had his own questions and opinions about some things, and expressed them as such.  Not as "well, that isn't going to work. Here's what'ch'ya gotta do.".
I can't stress how hard it is NOT to tell a wanna-be writer what they should be writing on and how to do it.  But that isn't the job of the friend or classmate reading a work.  It's to see the work for what it is, what it's trying to be, and to help the writer understand what maybe isn't working to get them to their goal.  In all likelihood, your eyes will be but one set to fall on the work, and you will be contradicted in your opinions.  You might not be correct, or you might only get the writer half-way there.  And you just know the next person to come along will say "no, it works fine" or "I think it all made sense to me".

But, mostly, your job in looking at something in progress is not to assume the author is asking for you to take it over or to help them make it more like what you'd do.  You're there as a sounding board, and it's a fine line.

Juan pulled this off beautifully. and I'm forever in his debt.

a Robert McGinnis cover would work, too

In return, I tried to be honest with him as to what I'd been thinking at the time - and after 16 years of poking at the manuscript, I was surprised how much of what I remembered from why I'd made various choices at different times.  And how interestingly some of those choices littered the story with unnecessary narrative detritus at this point.  Sometimes hilariously so, at least to me.

It is strange to sit across the table and say the names of characters that have lived almost entirely in your own head.  The only other person who has discussed the thing in its current form to this degree has been Jamie, and Jamie has dealt with the occasional, irregular and infrequent declarations of "I finished a chapter!  Can you take a look?", so she's spread her reading out over, literally, 10 years.

In many ways, its also forcing me to go beyond just plunking on a keyboard and having dreams of how good or bad this thing is.  For something to exist, it has to be out there, not just a vision in your head.  And as much as I like to criticize, review, whatever...  in many ways I believe that without attempting to give back to the conversation in some way is a fault.  More than that, you're confining characters and ideas from doing what they do when they escape the protection of your hard drive and imagination - you're denying the characters and story the transformation they'll take on as characters as seen by someone else and that reader/ viewer's own perspective.

By the time Juan and I got done jawing on the book, I was exhausted.  I didn't feel like we'd been arguing, but I felt like my brain had been running a little overclocked for the better part of three hours, and pulling from 16 years of something I just hadn't talked about very much.  Odd.

Anyway, thanks, Juan!

And when I sell the book, as I am certain I will (he said, sighing into his coffee), all of you will be the first to know.

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