clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Friday, September 7, 2012

Sad Thing

Effort is required. That's the warning label on the shiny box labeled "author."

I find dead blogs from writers all the time. They're in a sidebar link from a writing website I might enjoy. I go to the linked blog and see the last update October 2009. Or November 2010. Or even August 2013 with only three other posts in two years.

I know someone put in enough effort to have their blog linked. They clearly were active sometime. They also are clearly not active now.

They were well enough devoted to their writing to pick up and manage some of the outer elements associated with the effort. Most of the time I see that they also pursued the core of the writing itself.

The process:

  • grunt work required to turn out a (shitty) first draft, 
  • then a second draft with some coherent plot elements and the major rewrite of the worst of the scenes, 
  • then a good language scrub to correct the awkward speech and grammar errors in the narrative, 
  • then the near complete recast from this improved version to what is really the first well formed consistent and deliberate effort, 
  • another major alteration or two maybe recasting character voices, 
  • the grammar scrub again, 
  • a period on ice, 
  • a final look and structure revision,
  • a language and word choice overhaul,
  • a short cooling period I call refrigeration just so the next look is fresh to catch anything obvious,   
  • and submission to a good ad hoc copy editor. 

That's the typical. Some works take a lot more. Few take less.

That's a short story that hasn't gone out the door yet.

Oh, I used to think it wasn't so bad for other writers when I was young. I read an interview with Philip Roth in _The Paris Review_ in '84 or '85 where he described writing maybe one or two hundred pages of a novel before he found the "first good bit" that let him really start the novel there with that segment.

That's Roth speaking. He's good enough that his books were required reading for lit classes even as far back as the mid-eighties. Most of us will never have novels as required reading anywhere and certainly not in our lifetimes. This writer Roth struggled just as hard as I did to find something, anything that he could use as a jumping off place.

He said something about discarding the first few hundred pages at this point. I don't remember if he burnt them or shredded or just discarded.

I do know that I owe Mr. Roth for setting me straight. I knew from that point that whatever I wrote was going to be a long, difficult, and effort filled endeavor. If ever anyone was going to want to read it, I had to suck it up.

I've been fortunate to get harder as I've aged. Pain, effort, work, loss - these things are sometimes frightening as a young man in a way that no longer matters to an older man. You reach an age where you can stand naked in a pit and defend your thoughts, your life, your actions without remorse or regret. There is no more "I wish I could have done it differently" business. You do it and you live with it.

I call it hardening. You can call it something else.

What I call writing is work. Fun ? Sometimes in the sense that getting it out on paper can be a release from the demon of carrying it around for so long. There's still a ton of work in it even if writing the words were fun.

I see the dead blogs and I think that the fun part of the new creation was great for someone, once. Then, the real work set in and it is over now. Maybe they come back to it. Maybe not.

We have the whole of life to manage. Writing doesn't pay bills. Writing doesn't keep a marriage working. Writing doesn't walk the dogs.

Yet we go on. We are driven or we are not.

Dead writer's blogs happen when that drive was eaten up somewhere in life. I find that a little sad for no good reason at all.

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