By Joshilyn Jackson
I have to talk craft today. This will be writer-centric, but I think it applies in all the arts, and maybe past that into jobbishness and life? In any of those contexts, I’d love to chew it over here. You see, I got I a little inernetsian tiffsy over in Lydia Netzer’s comments. It was kinda funny---got very E-PEENY and made me feel like I was 25, post-club-tiddley, and trolling the Prodigy message boards...AH MY MISSPENT YOUTH.
It’s the age old INNER VOICE v/s OUTER EYES debate...As writers, do we listen to our inner voice or the outside voices of our critters?
One far-side says FOLLOW THE GUT YOU ARE THE WRITER FIGHT FOR EACH PRESHUS WORD. On the other extreme, you have BEND TO ALL SUGGESTIONS---EVEN IF IT MEANS SELLING OUT!
On one extreme side, I think GUT is too subjective to be wholly useful, unless you are one of your generations 2 or 3 Samuel Becketts, in which case, bully! Good on ya! but what works for the greatest among us is not true for the merely brilliant or talented or good. Gut alone stories generally only please one person, and they read it already. As they were writing it.
On the other side, 99% of the people I have met who claim they would be delighted to sell out aren’t good enough writers for anyone to BUY...Most good writers, in all genres, want to write what they are writing, and make the people they love in their head be alive.
The real question here is, how far do you bend? When your trusted editor or long-term crit partner says the crippled duckling is not working, do you obediently cut that duck, knife to sternum, dead duck, done? Or do you change him until he does work, maybe into handi-capable albatross? Or do you fight for his right to exist as he is, because your gut tells you so?
(Reading this hyper-extended politically-not-correct metaphor, did you think, WOW SHE HAS BEEN WATCHING GLEE? Because you were right. I have totally been watching Glee on the elliptical every day.)
Me? I say you bend. 90% of the time. You mostly will not break and cut him (though sometimes you should---knowing when is the trick) but even when you are not certain... yeah.
I say you bend.
Here is why: I have seen too many writers stick to an artistic vision that was SO STRONG in their heads, so glowing and lovely, that they were unable to see they had not managed to transfer that to the page. That the thing they were trying to do had not been done, that the words only worked as a short cut for THEM to enter their own world, and other readers were left outside of it.
But they were unable to hear that or take criticism, because the vision was SO real for them...
This is fine, if you are writing for yourself; I believe PERSONAL writing is a noble and worthy thing.
But if you are writing for publication, if your audience is greater than the sum of you, you need others to be able to enter your imaginary lands too; that means LISTENING to your trusted, smart critters when they tell you that they cannot, that you have blocked them out, that here and there you have muddied the way to your whole, real world.
One caveat---BEFORE you let editing eyes touch your creation, it better be wholly yours. You can’t turn in a fetus and expect the animal who is eventually birthed to be anything but a mutant hybrid.
You have to get the spine and the heart and the brain of your novel wholly working and wholly yours BEFORE your editor/critters get aholt of it, and then, after that, editing is safe, changes are safe, finding new paths in is safe, because the animal IS what it IS.
Giving it a poodle cut or putting it in a bejoooooled collar won’t change the animal.
Your beast is itself because of the heart and spine and brain, the magnificent biological WORKINGNESS and LIFE of it.
I believe you have to not be all up ons if someone suggests you change your creature's shoes.
And if the animal is WHOLE and ITSELF and BEAUTIFUL, that’s what edits will boil down to. The world you create is yours---gut your way there. But when it comes to how you make paths in, you have to listen to the people trying to navigate your map.
SO here’s my nutshell take: If you are blessed with a good crit group/editor, get over yourself a little, and err on the side of listening.
Yes? No? What do you think?