There are some people who love getting an idea down on paper, and that’s it, they’re done. The concept of going over it again and again is anathema to them. Nothing could seem more tedious and uncreative. But there's no writing without rewriting.
There are times when things come out fully formed. A short story. A poem. A sketch. A little ditty. But if you want to create a substantial piece of work, in any of the arts, you have to be ready to get down and dirty, and really work it.
This is true of all works of art. They all require slow, tedious, laborious effort. There’s a romantic idea of creativity, mostly from movies, that an artist creates spontaneously and at great speed. The writer bashes away at the old typewriter. The painter sloshes the paint on the canvas. The composer wakes inspired by a melody heard in a dream.
Fast cuts and a driving musical score produce a montage sequence that makes it all look like so much fun. Sadly, that's not how it is in the real world.
It’s a matter of expectation. If you go in thinking it’s going to be enjoyable all the way through, and if it isn’t it’s not worth doing, you’re going to be disappointed. In the real life creative process there isn’t an editing suite waiting to cut out all the boring bits. What may look like a cohesive and singular vision from the outside, is actually made up of a thousand points of lights carefully positioned to make you think that way.
It's part of the craft to hide the workings of the clock behind an elegantly simple clock face. You wouldn't know a house requires foundations to remains standing from the outside. A computer game is nothing like the flashy graphics and high octane gameplay from the perspective of the programmer. Making that switch from consumer to creator can be quite a culture shock. And once you make the switch it can actually spoil your ability to enjoy art the way you used to.You have to be prepared to sacrifce simple pleasures if you want to master a craft. Blistered fingers and bad backs are what you can look forward to.
The rewriting process is key to producing a decent piece of writing. When Hemingway said all first drafts are shit, he didn’t mean they were bad, or that they were worthless. But compared to where you’ll end up, where you start isn’t anywhere near what you’re capable of producing.
The thrill of getting an idea and scribbling it down is certainly very invigorating, but if you always run out of enthusiasm before the end, switch to new projects without completing the last, dismiss critique from readers as them ‘not getting it’, what you’re really doing is finding ways to avoid the plain simple truth: writing a good story is hard work. And if you aren’t struggling and stumbling and driving yourself crazy, you aren’t doing it right.
At times it will get boring and tedious and joyless, and you may think, why am I even doing this. But that’s like a marathon runner complaining because he feels tired. You’re supposed to feel like that, and do it anyway. Keep going. Because that’s part of the process. It’s what stops the flibbertigibbets from being able to do it. And once you break through the wall, the surge of energy, and the self-awareness you gain is well worth it.
Once you get used to the fact that the painful struggle early on eventually turns into the pleasure of seeing the improvement in your work for yourself (you won’t even have to ask anyone’s opinion, it will be clear to you that things are working better), you will end up actually enjoying rewriting far more than producing that first draft.
If you found this post interesting please give it a retweet. Cheers.
Thursday's post will be on how to avoid obvious, on-the-nose writing. Hope to see you then.