Doing The You Thing

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2019-09-11 21:00:00 No comments

My post from before inspired another thought worth following up on: I am politely skeptical of, but also fundamentally fond of, the idea that the initial burst of inspiration we have about things is worth defending from being refined until nothing remains.

A couple of years back, I was on an email list for a writer whose novel had been accepted by a professional editorial team as a prerequisite to it being published through an outfit that discovered work and promoted it through their imprint. Under the guidance of the editors, the author scrapped the original story — everything save for its premise and some tenuously similar story elements — and labored for months to write what amounted to an entirely different story.

The end result left the author disheartened, because what had once been a raw but original piece of work had been pounded flat into potted SF product. From what little I saw of the original and the revised versions of the story, it was more readable, but also that much more pedestrian. In the end, the author decided to fold up their tent and move on. I didn't blame them; the last thing you want is for someone else to come along and make your life's work boring even to you.

Everyone wants an audience. What matters more than the size of that audience, though, is the correctness and level of connection with that audience. A work that is perfect for a certain few thousand people is going to be more worth it than the same work "optimized" to reach orders of magnitude more by ripping out all that was interesting about it in the first place. ("Make the character a kid ... and give him a cute mascot ... ")

That initial burst of inspiration, in all its mess and glory, is a starting point and not necessarily a destination. But it's important not to lose the sense of urgency that went with it — the feeling that you have something that must be seen because it's not like anything else out there, that it's yours and not just an amalgam of existing and recognizable things.

Most anyone who's followed my blog for a while will know about my liking for a certain formula about originality, one I picked up from author and critic Dale Peck (long before his recent self-debasement, that is). It's the idea of the original thing that more people cotton to than the actual original thing itself, in big part because the actual original thing can be such a jarring pain in the ass to experience. That original burst of inspiration has a certain amount of that unfettered originality to it, the kind that doesn't owe anything to anyone. It's worth protecting, because we can soften it up and water it down without realizing what we're doing.

Against that impulse, there's also the need to seek out genuine improvement. You want to know how to pace your work, how not to fall into common (if sincere) traps, how not to make it amateurish in ways even casual fans will sniff out and wrinkle their nostrils at. It's no sin to want to improve, and it's no crime to look for good teachers. But it is a sin and a crime — against yourself if none other — to throw out all that you had that was yours to begin with in the process.

Tags: creativity inspiration writers writing