Sunday, 6 April 2014

Writing and garbage (a kind of advice, if I may)

A couple of days ago, Seth Godin published one of his brief but dense posts on the blog he is managing, and that post got me thinking.

Says Godin, on the blog:
"For every post that makes it to this blog, I write at least three, sometimes more.That means that on a regular basis, I delete some of my favorite (almost good) writing."
Godin wrote this to back up an argument about how organizations seem to be incapable of divorcing ideas that seemed too good to part with – often in spite of the logic of the market and the vindictive facts of efficiency.
I’m not thinking of organizations right now, and that’s simply because I believe Seth Godin’s post is so, so, so much about writing – about it in general, but especially about creative writing. The crux of the matter is this: we fall so deeply in love with our ideas, with our blood-stained, sweat-soaked pages, we often refuse to believe that some of them are just useless matter: the puss of those pages, the yucky bits. It’s not easy to believe otherwise, I know. It’s not easy to admit that we can be sources of waste more than generators of brilliance. And that may be due, to my mind, to the allegiance we have sworn to the idea of productivity.

Source: Written Words
Those who have given up all hope for a day job in favor of their writing adventure will know that once your life depends on it, you want every single word to shine in a way that makes it impossible to be ignored. And that is the dream of all creators. Nothing wrong with it. Nothing in essence, that is; but in practice? Isn't practice the testing ground of all theory? In practice, there is a lot of dead matter surrounding us. And I mean a lot. From a sentence we have backspaced into oblivion up to the most enchanting idea that’s never found the channel through language in order to live on a page.

Nothing else but human race
Writers do handle issues of life and death – they do it every day, they do it with every letter, they do it with every dream. Behind every success there is a ton of wondering, of doubt. What’s worse, behind every success there’s a lot of flotsam: not only scattered bits that make no sense, but also the painful memory of ideas that could have been and have never made it.
So what do we do with all this?
To answer the question let’s ask another one: What do we do with waste in general – with our domestic, daily garbage? The simple answer (in fact, I don’t think there could be a complex one) is this: we discard it. We chuck it away. We shake it off. We jettison it. So that we never see it again. The thing about garbage is that we never want it back. It is a form of embarrassment we inflict upon ourselves, and because of that we want it out of our sight. For good. The same goes, I guess, with writing. Ever since computers started being used (ever since typewriters have been forgotten, that is), it’s no longer possible to trace our writerly garbage. It’s gone for good. When we print a page out, we do it afresh. Every printed page is a page without blemishes, where discarded matter is never mentioned, never thought about, never acknowledged. And so, with every variant there is a form of forgetting taking place as well. Painful as it may seem in the beginning, it is all gone by the time the words appear on that white sheet freshly pulled out of the printer.

Glory to our masochistic selves!
This is what Godin’s post is about, I believe: about acknowledging that, no matter how much pain we feel – we do, eventually, forget things we have been deeply attached to. But this rupture will have to happen. There is very little text that shines after the first draft, unless you never doubt yourself – in which case, I would like to have the recipe, please, and I promise to start a campaign for dubbing you the God of Writing.
In reality, there’s more doubt in a creative act than leaves in the Amazonian forest. So all comes down to this: how to find, through all this doubt, the light that brings sparkles in our eyes? The answer I have in mind is this: Never write one draft alone. Always try, always shove stuff onto your pages, always have more versions to compare. If you don’t, you’ll never know the taste of alternatives. If you don’t delete your favorite writing you will never write that thing that becomes the favorite of others. And to do that, you need to get used to pain.

Source: Finding Wonderland
Yes, writing is an act of masochism – has anybody given you a different impression? Cultivating professional doubt is perhaps the peak of a writer’s standards of best practice. Doing away with the child of our brain is always a matter of severing an umbilical cord and watching that child float away, never to return. We watch and we cry; but, sooner or later, that child will be a distant memory.

What about hope?
This is not everything to be said, of course. Things we throw away are not exactly removed for good. The garbage in our trash cans doesn't vanish the moment we have discarded it. It is taken further, transported to another destination, handled by other people, processed, transformed. (From this very blog, for instance, to other places.) Yes, they may be doing the dirty work, but dirty work is done all the same.
What’s more, the garbage we throw away today stays with us forever, in forms that we may not always be conscious of. A writer’s style, his or her voice, his or her personality, his or her success, are things built in layers. Upon the ruins of a missed idea grows the luxuriant vegetation of a prosperous one. A word detested today may turn up tomorrow dressed like Prince Charming. An idea we kicked in the proverbial three years ago makes its way back, taking us by surprise long after we have forgotten it. This stuff happens a lot. It does. This is the backbone of writing, the meat and fat of creativity. This is the way forward.