Monday, March 23, 2009

Bette Davis and The Dread Pirate Roberts Redux

Here's a re-run, a portion of an entry originally posted on January 5, 2007. Over a year later, it's still true, even though one fantasy manuscript has been completed, and the second is almost three-quarters complete. Despite the progress, I'm still not satisfied, and I keep reading the work of other writers that I am convinced is so much better than mine that I can't hope to compete. Whinge, whinge, whinge. That's a writer for ya.

Every time I think "the end" is near, the novel requires more from me, forcing me to walk roads I've never traveled, to fight enemies in disguise and to use weapons that are unwieldy in my hands. "I am not equipped for this," I complain, but the story does not listen. It expects me to do what must be done.

I do not know how to do something? So what, shrugs the story. Learn.

"I can write short stories and poems in my sleep," I boast in a cry-baby whine. "I can conduct interviews in a single bound. Why can't I just stick with them? Novels hurt too much."

Who wants to sleep away his years? the manuscript demands. Then, in a sly reminder of The Dread Pirate Roberts, it stares at me and says, Life is pain. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

"Yeah, yeah." I sigh and pick up my trusty pen. "I hear ya."

Don't you just hate it when inanimate objects are right? They can be so smug.

Being away from a lengthy manuscript can cause memory lapses, and the creative muscles can grow stiff. This afternoon, I read excerpts from existing pages, reorienting myself in the characters' journeys, both the physical travels in which feet meet dirt and the internal odysseys where souls brush against one another. Often the inside story is where the action is.

My goal as a writer is to present stories that move along at a brisk pace yet never let the reader fall behind; tales that speak to the spirit while leaping over chasms. I've come close to that goal in short stories. A novel, however, is uncharted territory where I, the intrepid explorer, have to make my own maps. Not an easy task, even with a compass and rudimentary drawing skills.

It's taken me years to traverse the same ground that other novelists skip over in months. Why bother? I must not have it in me to reach the end. But, even when I whine, I cannot stop. I must do this. I have to prove to myself that I can. I refuse not to grow.

Bette Davis, that raspy-voiced actress who could do nasty so well, once said, "This became a credo of mine: Attempt the impossible to improve your work."

Amen, sister.


Alexander Field said...

My gosh Keanan, a year ago when you posted this, you could have been writing for me then and now (and it continues!). I very much enjoyed your post because today I am there. I've revised my novel four times now, and reading through it again, it still needs work that most days I feel ill-equipped even to attempt! The novel says, like yours, take the next right step, learn, get it done. Thanks for the word and the Bette Davis line too!

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of the things that I have recently been through and am currently going through in my Air Force training. No excusses are allowed. To quote a little green guy, "Do or do not, there is no try."


Keanan Brand said...

Alex -- I've found the revision process to be exhilerating and frustrating: exhilerating, because I can see what works, and can follow plot threads, and feel the accomplishment of completion; frustrating, because I realize there is so much more work to be done.

One consolation: If we ever get to the place where our stuff is good enough, we'll grow lax and stop trying to get better. So I guess the angst is good motivation!

Bubba -- Hey! I'm glad we got a chance to talk the other night. If you'd waited till Monday, I'd have been asleep. Seriously. Fell asleep right after dinner.

The little green guy is right. "The thought's as good as the deed" might work in a pinch, but it still means something was left undone. I can think about writing all day, or all year, but if I don't actually put pen to paper, or fingers to keyboard, ain't nothin' happenin'.