Thursday, July 01, 2010
You've come a long way, baby
We writers forget just how horribly gruesome we were when we first started out. I know I did.
Yeah, yeah, I was green, and I remember being so dumb I didn't even know what I didn't know. But even before that, I had a sort of arrogance about me, that, "I could do that," when I polished off the last page of a book I'd bought.
It was usually the less-than-stellar books that inspired such confidence. And yeah, I can say I've read less-than-stellar books. In fact, to some writers or readers, my own books make them whack their heads and say, "I could do that."
So it was an eye-opening experience this weekend when I opened up a long discarded "trunk" novel with the thought that, as it was at least a first chapter written, I could resurrect it.
The first sentence, with its clunky introductory gerund phrase, warned of woe. The chapter didn't, for the most part, rise above it.
Keep in mind that this was a novel I started NOT when I was 16 (I was still writing very bad poetry about the football player upon whom I crushed on and upon whom didn't even know I existed), or when I was in college (writing a really bad, over-the-top family saga about a NASCAR family of all things).
Nope, this was a novel I started in 2003, after I'd won at least two first place Georgia Press Association Awards and after I'd been making my living off writing for five years (I was an editor/reporter).
My heroine was a shrew with an entitlement complex. My hero was a chauvinist who came across patronizing at best and Neanderthal at worst. The best character in the whole chapter was the tow-truck driver, who had a scant two or three lines to his credit. And since, in the years that have stretched on from 2003, "boots" have replaced tow-truck drivers for parking violations, Tow-Truck Driver would wind up on the cutting room floor.
I cringed with embarrassment, but I sent it to Tawna Fenske for her to take a look-see. She agreed, and I cringed some more.
But you know what? I really shouldn't cringe. I should celebrate three things: the scant flashes of talent that I came across (they registered as a "well, that's not so bad" upon re-reading), and the fact that I have improved, and finally, that I can SEE said improvement.
Being able to see that you sometimes, oftentimes, suck at writing -- or any skill, really -- is something you don't learn immediately. But you have to learn that humbling lesson if you're ever going to make it. If I had never been able to see the wisdom in my critique partners' line edits, I would have never improved. You can't improve what you don't first embrace as something that NEEDS improving.
So don't pull a Van Gogh and trash your early efforts in a blaze of feverish delete-delete-delete. Keep those trunk novels tucked away in your trunk or drawer or under your bed. And on the days when you swear you can't write, when you haven't learned one iota ... that's when you pull out those early mess-terpieces. And you'll see that, like me, you've come a long, long, long way.