Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Over-tweakers Anonymous


I had something discouraging happen twice in the last week. Just when I thought I’d finished something, I reread and discovered I was far from done. One was the beginning to the Nick short story, “The Great Divide.” The other was a somewhat unimportant scene in Somewhere on The Road to Me. Both had been cooling for a week or so while I stepped away for a dose of perspective.

I can’t tell you how disheartened I was when I came back and saw my own drivel. In the case of “The Great Divide,” I’d been sure I was ready to submit. But really, I’d created a mess. I’d crafted paragraphs of weighty, poetic description, had fully developed themes before my story even started. I’d written one entire page of a guy looking at telephone lines while sitting in a hot spring. What the hell was I thinking? I’d clearly overwritten.

I don’t know about you, but I could tinker a sentence into complete oblivion. Tweak a little here, reword a bit there, maybe shorten, or re-punctuate, break it into two, jam two together with a conjunction or a comma splice, throw in another snazzy image. Maybe do all of the above until the revision bears no resemblance to the original. Unless you’re Hemingway and you write nothing but unalloyed gold, there’s always the option of mixing things up a bit. But with that possibility comes the chance of overwriting. Damn. I clung when I should have let go.

I think this is what’s killing me with Beth’s story. (okay, I know) I’m so doggedly determined to get every phrasing just right that I belabor even the shortest scenes. Why do I do that? I’m driving myself nuts. Not to mention I’m getting so damn sick of Beth, I’m starting to understand why her mother gets so pissed at her.

But the real shame is that I’m losing Beth’s freshness. Too many similes, too many artful phrasings. Too much writing when I should just shut up. My overly stylized sentences are taking attention away from the story and placing it smack dab on me. And this story isn’t about me. Or it shouldn’t be. I could kick myself for being a pompous ass.

So, once more back to the drawing board with another fine line I need to identify. And as usual, I have more questions than answers. How do I stop annoying my manuscripts with petty revisions? How do I take myself out of a process that’s so entirely personal? I want to just say no to annoying revision, but I’m addicted without a support group in sight.


Stephen said...

Wow! You just described what I go through all the time, which is why I haven't submitted as much as you. I'm too concerned about whether the writing is good enough, and I'm always trying to fine-tune the prose. Nip a little here, tuck some there. Move the fat around, or maybe insert an implant there. It always seems like I create Frankenstein's monster rather than the perfect "10" that I want.

I share your pain. Letting go of your little child is hard to do.

Greta said...

Stephen, the more I learn about writing, the less I discover I know. I wonder if anyone ever gets to the point where they feel they really have this thing licked. My guess is probably not, or Hemingway wouldn't have done himself in.

Oh well. We live, we write, we learn. One of these days, we'll get there. Wherever there is.