Monday, June 6, 2011

I wrote, it sucked, I wrote some more

I read this today. The article is good, about hard-work, diligence and not giving up.

But this paragraph in particular struck a chord:

Years ago, I wrote a novel and it sucked. I wrote another one, it sucked a little less. I wrote another one, and was almost there, and then, I wrote a fourth one. It was different.

I've heard/read this so many times. Write a story, it sucks, write a new story, it sucks a little less... and so on and so forth.

Am I wrong to think that any story is redeemable with enough work?

If you've looked at all at my 'what I'm working on' page, you'll notice that it starts with Project #2, next is Project #3, and finally Project #1 is the last one on there.

Project #1 was my first *book*. I wrote the first draft in 2004 when (newly-married) I had just moved to Calgary, Alberta where I knew absolutely no one and worked in a satellite office by myself. I was lonely, I was bored, and because I was in the satellite office instead of the main office, the work that found its way to me was about half of what it had been. To keep myself sane, I started writing.

And yes, it sucked.

I re-wrote it, scene by scene (I jumped all around) and it got better. I put it aside when I moved back to the west coast about a year later, back into the main office. I picked away at the story in little chunks, only when I felt like I wanted to work on it or when an idea was keeping me awake at nights. And yes, it still sucked. Then I moved onto Vancouver Island and about 8 months after living there, quit my job and went to finish my university degree. During that time, I picked away at the story. I re-wrote parts here and there. I even joined a critique group.

And the story sucked a little less. Then I put it aside going into my fourth year of university. I was offered a fully paid for spot in the Masters program and, a week before classes began, had to bow out due to health problems.

And I picked up the story again. I re-joined my critique group and they agreed with me that it sucked a LOT less than when they had previously read a few chapters. I finished my edits, I handed the whole thing over and they tore it apart about a year ago. I put the story aside and wrote a new one (Project #2).

But that isn't the end of Project #1. Instead of writing story after story and learning something new each time, I re-worked the same one over and over again. I looked at it like practicing letters on a slate tablet. I could practice my craft, re-working the same thing (well, the same characters and mostly the same plot) over and over again until I could recognize my mistakes, my errors in pacing, my tendency to flip into different character's heads within the same scene (a leftover from my animation training, I am sure), and everything else.

I hate not finishing something. I hate not following through on what I've started or promised.

I'm sure I could have abandoned Project #1 and written a slew of bad novels between then and now, but I'm glad I stuck with it because I can clearly see the advancement in my own work. I can go back to that first draft, or a draft from two years ago and compare them. I've worked on this story so long and so hard that I learned to be ruthless. I learned to break down scenes or characters I loved, tear away my emotional attachment to them, and re-write them into something better.

When I finally needed a true break from the story and started Project #2, I didn't just see a little bit of advancement. It was like a babbling child reciting a line of poetry, or the old adage of 1000 monkeys eventually typing  the works of Shakespeare (yes, the inspiration for this blog title).

To me, writing is not about talent or some kind of mystical muse. Writing is about a lot of hard work. Perhaps a little more because I'm dyslexic. Writing was not originally about loving to tell stories or escaping into wonderful imagined worlds. It was about hiding the fact that there was something wrong with me. It was about not having my teachers mock me in class and make me re-write my schoolwork on the blackboard in front of my jeering peers. Writing was my own personal battle to first become average, and then to become better than average, then finally to become the best.

...and I'm still working.

Maybe I feel so strongly about not giving up on first drafts 'cause I know I could have given up on myself when I learned there was something wrong with me. I've seen it. Kids (and adults) who wear their disabilities like badges of merit, they flash it around, they demand they be treated differently, to be given extra consideration. They snarl at the *averages*, complain how their lives have been so difficult, and condescend when someone else mentions a difficulty that seems *minor* in comparison to their own. Just this weekend, I heard someone say they, 'played the dyslexic card' to get out of doing something...

I hate this. I hate the attitude of victimhood, no matter what the situation.

Why can't we strive to be something better? Something more than what we are? Why can't we reach higher instead of dragging others down just so we can step on their backs and feel better about ourselves?

I remember a scene from a book called 'The Lily Theatre', which was about a girl growing up in China during the time of Chairman Mao. In the scene, the girl is being taught Math by an ex-professor in one of the work camps. He says that only in China can the number 6 can be greater than 10. Basically, he was referring to how in the university/school systems, the lower teachers would denounce the respected teachers so they could take their place.

I don't want to compete with other writers. I don't want to trash their books, their first drafts, their ideas, just to make myself feel better. My blog name doesn't only have to do with diligence and not giving up, it also reminds me that I am just one of many. One nameless monkey typing on a keyboard. It is not one monkey that writes the works of Shakespeare, it's the combined effort of all of them.

Okay, that was really long and rambly.

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Type me out a line of Shakespeare or a line of nonsense. Dumb-blonde-jokes & Irish jokes will make me laugh myself silly :)