One thing I’m learning in the Masters is something that I’ve been trying to learn for a long time, but it’s just sinking in this year. And I’ll probably realize new things about it later, since I keep thinking “gee, I’ve really learned All There Is about this new realization,” and then more stuff keeps coming.
This new realization is how much fucking WORK all of this is, writing and rewriting and how the cycle keeps going, over and over. I used to look at a work and go “eh, that’s good enough.” And it REALLY wasn’t! I could maybe, if I squinted, see some places where stuff could be fixed, but I didn’t want to put the effort in, or I was too close to the writing to see how malleable everything is. And it’s so malleable! Malleable-ness is something I’ve learned way more about in the Masters! EVERYTHING can change! Basic, core shit can change! A whole character can be re-written or taken out or added in! A first draft can be fully scrapped! I keep getting closer to this realization and I think I’m finally realizing it in its entirety, how much of writing is WORK, and how much effort goes in if you want something to be GOOD and SOLID and something you can be proud of!
In a summer creative writing course I had a teacher who met up with everyone one-on-one and went over a couple pages of our writing and made us talk about Every. Single. Sentence. And justify why we worded it like that, and why not another way, and discussed with us how we could make it stronger. It took us an hour to get through 2 and a half pages. Everything was crossed out or rewritten, the pages shot through with red. And it was so EXCITING! The writing was so much stronger! We were tightening it into something where I could feel proud of every sentence!
The teacher paused at the end and said, “Look, you want to do this, yeah? Writing. Not just as a hobby, but as What You Do.”
And I said yep, I’m putting all my eggs in this Writing basket, and she said, “Okay. In that case, I’m going to tell you” – and she pointed at the red pages – “THIS is how much work it takes, if you want to get anywhere important. THIS is what you have to do.”
And I looked at the pages we had done, the justification of every single creative decision, and I was still thinking about them as I walked home. I probably should’ve been despairing? I felt like I should’ve been despairing. But I grinned the whole way home! I was so goddamn EXCITED! Yeah, it’s going to be a LOT of work, so much work that I’m gonna hate it at times, I’m gonna stare at the screen and not know how to fix something or I’ll know something has to be fixed but I won’t know WHAT – but I felt like I’d been given a gift? It felt really obvious in retrospect – writing is WORK, yeah, no shit – but I hadn’t been told this thoroughly before. I couldn’t brush it off or ignore it or think “well, there’s nothing more I can think of doing, so even though it probably needs more work, this will do.”
It’s been a process! I kept trying to resist just how much WORK goes into writing, and not doing that work, and then grudgingly admitting yeah, okay, that actually is useful. And then I’d absorb that thing into my writing process. For years I didn’t rewrite. Then I figured out how necessary it was. I began to see how things could get fixed in rewrites, rather than staring helplessly at the document knowing something was wrong but not knowing what it was. I started figuring out what was wrong! And then I learned how to fix it!
I’m constantly learning more stuff to figure out how I can take my work further and further past “good enough,” into territory that will, hopefully, surprise the hell out of me at first, and then turn into something resembling normal. After enough rewrites, that is.