By CL Bledsoe
I was talking to another writer after a reading last night, and she said something interesting. I had complemented her on how clever her stores were. She would build these intricate characterizations or observations that were organic yet surprising. In response, she talked about how she just loved when she could go through a piece and cut or change a word in just the perfect way. She spoke about it the way some people speak about the bodies of someone they loved, once, and haven’t seen in a long time.
I don’t have quite that relationship with my writing. I’m revising a novel right now (see how I’m spending time writing this blog post?). I’ve gone through it, had others go through. I couldn’t say how many times. At this point, it’s like someone I used to love who I hope dies in a fire and their ghost comes back so I can shoot it in the face with rock salt.
Perhaps I’m exaggerating. Perhaps I never loved this — or any other — book. But I remember spring picnics in the meadow, secrets shared, late-night fumblings. Wait, no, I’m going too far with this analogy. Forget that last part. What I mean is that I enjoy writing. I love the puzzle of it, the discoveries, the structuring, even. Revising takes so much time, though. And time has been an issue for me for as long as I remember. I write quickly and edit as I go, as much as possible, because I don’t have the luxury of time. Being able to spend hours teasing out the perfect word is just not feasible for me. This isn’t a time management issue. It’s a not-enough-time-existing issue. Or, an I-have-to-work-to-live issue.
This novel I’m working on, I wrote it in bursts of a few hundred words while working at a call center a few years ago, mostly literally in between calls. I’ve revised it while working a full-time job and teaching classes, along with whatever other projects I could pick up. Right now, I’m taking graduate classes while working full-time and doing other projects. I also have a kid to raise. My social life is pretty much nonexistent unless you count giving readings.
I’m not meaning to compare my situation to anyone else’s. I have no idea what their situations are. Maybe I’m just a bad writer. And, I get the work done. When I edit fiction, I have a list of things to look for. This includes phrases I tend to rely on, passive sentence constructions, etc. Each novel seems to have its own hang-ups. In this one, I kept doing this thing where I didn’t attribute dialogue clearly, for example. There are a ton of other things. So, the first time I edit a book, I’m looking for structural issues, holes, things I can cut and things that need to be added. Big-picture stuff. There’s not much point in tweaking language if I end up cutting that entire section. Each successive time I refine the scope of my focus until I get to the point of looking at word choice. But at that point, I’m hard against a deadline, and I have to rush. This is where my resentment comes in, I think. If I’m being honest, I’m not being very emotionally mature with the way I feel towards my novel. It’s not the novel’s fault I’m so busy. It just wants my attention.
Pheew. I feel cleansed.
Poetry is different. I can tinker with poems for years, and no one cares, because no one wants to publish it anyway. I can change absolutely everything about a poem, so much that the original and the new poem might be two different entities. But my poems tend to be a page long, max. That’s a manageable chunk to deal with.
The lesson, here, is that I should’ve been born rich so I’d have time to tinker more.