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bear by san

March 2017



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bear by san

More perspectives on writing and reading.

Anne Rice on her writing process, and why she asked her editor to stop 'editing' after Queen of the Damned.

nihilistic_kid (Nick Mamatas) on Endless Nights.

Poppy Z. Brite on her writing process, and a meeting with George Plimpton. (You may have to scroll down to the Friday Sept 26th entries: I can't figure out how to permalink off her livejournal setup)


And now I have to get Kit through the door he kicked down before bedtime.


I've heard a lot of suggestions about Rice's more recent work that she should have someone edit it.
I thought her polemic was a bit.... um. That.

To date, my own few experiences with editors have been overwhelming positive, and resulted in better work on my part. So I am biased against Rice's position, personally.

I did think her post was very revealing, though. As, to me, her later work has seemed extremely self-indulgent.
It's Heinlein Syndrome. Whom the gods would destroy, they first let write what they want to.
Self-indulgent is exactly what it is. I find her process self-indulgent as well. I too was once a perfectionist, but I realized that I wrote more and better when I forced myself to write in drafts rather than laboring over each sentence for hours. Constipated writing never helped anyone IMO. Perfectionism isn't a sign of a sensitive and writerly soul or anything like that: It is a disability that must be overcome. Frankly, it's an excuse that lazy people use to justify their inability to take constructive criticism.

To be fair, she has years of experience on me and I've never published, so perhaps I have no right to criticize her methods. What I do feel entirely justified in criticizing is her glorification of her methods. It is always interesting to know how someone else writes, but everyone is different and I would hate to see aspiring writers emulating her. They would do better to go buy one of Peter Elbow's books. He may not work for everyone, but I have seen many of my friends move from complete writers block (induced by years of awful English teachers) to fluid writing after reading his books.
I haven't read Peter Elbow, but I'm a big fan of John Gardner's On Becoming a Novelist, which is a book on learning to perceive the world in a writerly fashion.

I don't think there *is* any one system that can work for everybody--but I do think that everybody can benefit by learning as many of the tools as are humanly possible. Keep stretching, in other words, and trying to encompass new techniques.

Or just deepening one's understanding of what makes a story work. Or not work, as a case may be.
Elbow's main point is to get people to be less hypercritical of everything they write so that they can just get something out on the page. He's a big fan of freewriting and such. No, his methods won't work for everyone trying to produce a draft of a novel, but they're a great place to start for people who can't write at all.
Which--yeah--I havea little mantra I chant when I start to think what I'm working on sucks, which is "Get it on paper; fix it later."

I'll have to look for this guys' stuff.
>But that at once she wanted the reader to feel as if her ideas sprung whole like the talent of mozart in perfect artistic form...You can write a page of really pretty prose, but if you aren't paying attention to and altering the structure of your novel to proceed properly, you're going to get some trite stuff.

Hmm. I seem to be standing in the minority here, but I'm not seeing...well, any of this. (And it's not just your post that left me scratching my head; it's just a handy jumping off point.) The point of the message, seems to me, was to reassure her readers that she is editing, that stuff isn't just falling out of her head and onto the page and heading to print like that.

Yah, here we go:

"That's the process...There is intensive editing...You are not presented with a single sentence that has not been read and re-read, and read again and again."

According to this letter of hers, she is paying attention to each sentence and to how they fit together to create story -- a whole lot of really close attention.

Which isn't to say that I don't think it's a mistake to refuse further editing...but I really don't think that carelessness or lack of attention is a criticism that can be leveled here.

Probably I'm sympathizing here because...this is kind of how I write. Read and revise as I go. Adjust sentences until they fall just right on my ear. Put blank space in the middle of a section that went wrong and rework it until it goes right, then move on.

Me? Often I'll rewrite my first finished draft of something before I send it out into the world. Sometimes I won't -- I'll just make minor changes on that draft. I don't delude myself into thinking that any of what I send out is the best story ever written, but before they go out the door, I believe they're the best stories they could be, given my skill level at the time.

(It's not just stories that I write this way. I tweaked the last sentence of the previous paragraph twice before going onto the sentence directly prior to this. And then I went back to put in the paragraph break.)

But I dunno. I think it comes down to, "What works for you?" Whatever that is, I think that's okay. I don't find anything offensive in her referencs to drafts, and I'm kind of amused that people are reacting to "sloppy first drafts."

Er. Isn't that what we call them, too? Isn't that what we tell people when they say they're having trouble writing, that their perfectionism is giving them writer's block? "Just get a draft on paper," we say. "Doesn't matter if it sucks -- just put down the words. You can go back and fix it later." Perhaps it's only offensive when it's coming from someone who doesn't write that way?

I don't see her saying, "Sloppy first drafts are bad and I'm too fancy to produce such monsters." Just, "I don't write that way. I write this way instead."

And she's not refusing all editing, assuming we can take this message as fact. She still accepts copyedits, and seems glad of them. She still adds/changes stuff at that stage on her own. She still accepts comments from her editor (though granted, it's nebulous what sort of comments those are and whether they have any impact on the current book or just on future ones, and depending on their relationship possibly also on what sort of things that editor says).
Good gravy. Livejournal has a character limit. Who knew?

I'm writing a novel of my own here! Sorry, Bear. I'll wrap it up. I do have some original content here.

What I really (and this is another sentence I've already edited as I go) find interesting about this message, and now that I think about it, about similar how-I-write manifestos that I've seen, is the implication that any given writer has one way of writing.

"I write sloppy first drafts, then I go back and fix them."

"I edit exhaustively as I go."

In both cases, the writers (the good ones, anyway, IMO) say, "This is what I do. Do what works for you." But I think there isn't just one "what works for you." I think there's "what works for this story."

I see this in my own writing, as noted. Some stories take one draft and very minor editing. Some take five, six, more (and then vanish because I'm an idjit who didn't back things up properly. Not that I'm bitter). For me, this is all in flux. I'm a baby writer; I don't yet have a set what-I-write or how-I-write.

Really, I'm not sure that I want one. I keep saying that I want to be able to do many things at least passably. I keep saying I want as extensive a toolbox as I can possibly carry. I want to know both when to fiddle with a story and when to leave a good thing alone.

That's what I find missing in messages like this. There isn't just one way to write -- of course. And that goes for individual writers as well as for writers as a group.
I don't yet have a set what-I-write or how-I-write. Really, I'm not sure that I want one. I keep saying that I want to be able to do many things at least passably. I keep saying I want as extensive a toolbox as I can possibly carry.

Damn straight.

And good on you.

And come ramble any time you like. *g*
Er. I don't know if it's worth mentioning, but just in case it colors anyone's reading of this post:

I don't read Anne Rice. Never have been a fan. I read Interview back in middle school, and maybe one other. Or maybe not.
I'd heard this before, that Rice wasn't being edited anymore at her own request. When I heard it, and heard when the change had taken place, I thought, "Oh. That's what happened." Right about then is when her books lost a lot of their power. I used to be an avid Rice fan, but yeah, the word 'self-indulgent' comes to mind. "I can't possibly bear to have anyone touch my perfected work!" Feh. And again I say feh. No one can be objective enough about her own work to recognize and fix its flaws and weaknesses, I don't care how big your advances are.

I hate this sort of artistic bullshit, this notion that one's work is too perfect or one's sense as an 'artiste' is too fragile to deal with a solid whack of good old-fashioned red ink. She's short-selling herself as an artist and a craftswoman.

Grr. Making a mental note never to do that when I get rich and famous. ;)
I guess it depends on whether you're writing for the readers or for yourself.

I mean, on some level, you have to write for yourself. Write from your passion. And so on.

But then again, I really do love being read. And understood. And having people come to me with things I never saw in my own work, but it meant that to them.

Damn, it's--you know. Communicating.
I recognise Anne Rice's method -- I ought to :o). But I totally disown the idea that what anyone gets at the end of the process isn't still a draft.

Fine, not equivalent to a 'sloppy first draft' (dismissive of alternate methods isn't she?) but a far less than perfected work.

(Though I am clearly a greater neatnik than Anne Rice --because I would be terribly embarrassed to admit having errors in character height etc by the time I hand it over, and she seems to feel grammar, spelling etc are the copy-editor's job. ::giggles self-indulgently:: Punctuation, now that's something else :o))

I do tend to work a lot of corrections as I go. And possibly spend too long trying to get it right first time. But mostly that's because if I can see something is wrong it niggles till I beat it to death. Perfectionism's not a virtue, it's a mildly crippling mental illness ::grins::

The biggest difference between Anne Rice and me? I'm aware of my imperfections.

Oh sorry, the biggest difference is that she managed to stay professional long enough to get the breaks to be big enough to be a total... umm. :o)

I do actually wish publishing companies would be a little less cavalier about falling in with prima donna tactics, because in the end it might not just be Anne Rice who suffers from people putting books down. If people pay money for a book and find it -- unenchanting -- they may be less inclined to buy the next book. Not just of Anne Rice but of anyone.