On the sixth day of Christmas, my loves presented to me a Sir Impey/Viennese Opera Singer ficlet (from Swooop, who spoils me rotten) and a bag of really terrific tea (from westernredcedar
), which helped make for a very pleasant end to 2007. At midnight, I was sipping my second cup of tea and going through some pages at Distributed Proofreaders
. (I fell hard for George A. Birmingham's A Padre in France
(1918), an account of working as a British Army chaplain during WWI.)
On the seventh day of Christmas, I didn't do much in the way of writing or reading, but I did walk the dog and parts of my house are now less ooky. I also looked over a chapter of a friend's novel-in-progress and typed up a quasi-detailed crit of it. regan_v rec'd
my Snape/Lupin in Chicago
fic. (And speaking of recs, Nineveh
posted an excellent cross-section
of Wimsey recs at crack_van last month. (ObDisclosure: she says very nice things about Bringing His Lordship Around
and its companion drabble.)
On the eighth day of Christmas, I woke up way too early, partly fretting over things not yet done and partly musing over whether I had gotten too detailed in the crit. It's just occurred to me that, being by nature a poet, I am not the most efficient writer or critiquer of prose, because I operate primarily at the micro-level of words rather than the macro-level of narrative structure. I've tried
following the popular dictum of gutting out the proverbial "shitty first draft" and then going back to finetune everything, and it not only doesn't work for me, it kills the fun.
It's a different ballgame when one is writing on contract; I can force myself to "get it done, fix it later" when my mortgage payment depends on me turning in x thousand words or y hundred slides on time. But when I'm writing "for the love," spew-drafts just end up wasting my time, because I tend to discover the truth about my characters in how they (fail to) talk and appear to each other (which is how I repeatedly end up delighted when they say things I hadn't expected...). I know that many writers do a lot of world-building and character-sketching before they ever write the first line of their stories, and I imagine I should try more of that myself - but, again, I work instinctively at micro- rather than macro-level storycrafting, and that's how I've sometimes discovered I've got a plot on the wrong track: when I stall out trying to come up with the right words, or if I try to skate past a scene that really needs to take place onstage, that's when I'm most likely to realize I need to reconsider what I had in mind. I don't see these things at the macro-level, because there, everything looks like it's plausible; it's when I tell a character, "You need to say this now" and she retorts, "You're making me sound like a SNL parody of a Bronte heroine" that I realize, oops
. (This was my deal-breaker when it came to the seventh Harry Potter book: I realize Lupin's "It is I" speeches are a very small part of an exceedingly long book, but the combination of melodramatic and illogical is still too much for me. I cannot deal with it, even though I know a number of intelligent people who aren't fussed by it at all. Chacun à son goût
often points out, there is no one method that works for everyone: you have to go with whatever gets you to sit in the damn chair and write. Spew-drafts work for a lot
of people, many of them far more successful than I, but for me, they're pretty much the equivalent of riding an exercise bike with a too-low setting: they take up too much time for too little reward.
Which makes it an interesting challenge, working with someone else's rough draft. I tend to be impatient with other poets who try to do this with me, because I don't see it as the best use of my time: I don't want to be distracted with things the writer already recognizes as wrong and knows how to fix; for me, the primary usefulness of a beta is to point out the things the writer doesn't realize aren't quite right; to help the writer grope his/her way towards solving the things s/he does
realize are off but can't suss out how to resolve; and to catch the typos the writer's missed because they've gone over the same pages too many times. But many people -- perhaps the majority -- don't
share this expectation, because it's concept first and cleanup later for them. This in no way means their methods/expectations are wrong, but it does explain why some critique arrangements work out significantly better for me than others. (Though I will add that, over the years, the biggest problem by far has been people flaking out on reciprocation. I don't automatically crit with strings attached, but if the arrangement was proposed as an exchange, I will
get annoyed if you fail to grant my work the attention I gave to yours.) I've done best with writers whose egos are as strong as mine and who are as no-holds-barred about getting every last punctuation mark right
So, fearing I'd gotten too micro with what should've been a macro-crit prompted part of this, but reading Justine Larbalestier
's post on rewriting is what pushed it into becoming this morning's morning pages
, as it were. And now it's time to finish breakfast and get to work.
 Not actually a habit of mine, but sometimes pre-work blogging like this ends up performing the same function.[Partially x-posted to my personal journal.]