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Easy words and hard words

matociquala makes a good point here about her books. The one thing I wanted to talk a bit about is this (although she's dead right about accruing debt, i.e. don't):

The funny thing is, when you go back and read it six months or a year later, you can't tell the difference between the bits you slogged through, cursing every word, and the bits that came out as if Odin himself was feeding you the lines.

There are one or two whole books that I've written in which there is just so much struggle to roll the boulder uphill that I develop a reflexive cringe response to the text itself. All of the parts that I actually like are the parts that were not such bloody-minded struggle, and I am convinced that the book is an abject failure because there were not enough of those parts to support a book. It takes me about two to three years to forget the experience of actually writing the book, so it takes me about that long to be able to read and parse the words that are actually there, as opposed to the words that I'm terrified are there. Which is another way of saying it's hard for me to reread anything I write until I've forgotten the writing of it.

(Yes, this makes revising and editing a big strain, because I am frequently changing words that I hate into, oddly enough, more words that I hate, with no certainty that the changes actually do anything useful. But waiting 2-3 years to revise a book would be a bit problematic.)

But matociquala is right. When I've forgotten the struggle to put one word in front of the other in a way that approximates a native English speaker, I can't actually tell which words were the ones that I struggled for hours on, and which were the words that came easily and naturally, as if they were an act of grace.

This implies strongly that there isn't, in the end, a difference. And for the people who weren't mired in the writing, this is probably true. Although it can be true in the "these are all good" or in the "these are all dreadful" way; the point is, the words that are a total, fun-sucking slog do not, in fact, stand out from the words that weren't, regardless of how one feels about the book.

The difference while writing is this: the words that come naturally and easily are words that are easier to trust. They do not automatically feel like garbage. They do not automatically feel like they're full of fail. It is easier to find the shiny bits and point at them and feel, somehow, that we've done something good. There are so many little insecurities and struggles with the ever-smarter Internal Editor while writing any book, that anything that somehow makes the words seem decent and worthwhile makes the book easier to write. People who feel that they need the inspiration or they write crap might not, in fact, be writing crap when they are not inspired -- but their perception of it counts.

Because when it's a slog, it is definitely Not Fun.

(Yes, I am in the middle-of-the-book. Why do you ask?)

ETA: This, I realize, should come with the usual disclaimer: This is me, talking about my process, and my finished books. Other people's process will probably differ widely.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 1st, 2008 04:25 am (UTC)
I've hesitated to post much of arejoinder, because butting heads with somebody on their process vs. your own is pretty useless, but it seems like it's steamrollering everybody.

No, no, you should feel free to post rejoinders. It's not so much butting heads, as coming up with an alternate method that also works -- I'm well aware that process is entirely individual. I would be disinclined to argue, because you're not telling me that it should work for me, but rather, telling me what does or does not work for you. If that makes sense.

I think it's also helpful to have the range of different writer-process viewpoints, because our process does change, and because some people will find different processes more encouraging or helpful.

I've written 30k words in 3 days, but never on a novel. That was pure story-chasing; I love that, but I will burn out on a piece doing it. If it's a short story (well, in this case, novella), I'll do it anyway because I don't need to sustain that fire for longer than the 3 days.
(Deleted comment)
Apr. 1st, 2008 04:43 am (UTC)
So where exactly does that leave us?

Neurotic. *g*
Apr. 1st, 2008 02:28 pm (UTC)
One of the latest horrible lessons I've been struggling to learn is that the easy, shiny, passionate-spew words can still be all crap.

Everyone's mileage varies, of course.
Apr. 2nd, 2008 05:16 am (UTC)
One of the latest horrible lessons I've been struggling to learn is that the easy, shiny, passionate-spew words can still be all crap.

I think this happens to me as well; I just think it's easier for me to get the initial words on the page and to hate them less in their first iteration. Possibly because at heart I'm a lazy person, and the memory of the effort is less, you know, tramautizing.

Basically, I second guess myself all the time. The funny thing, though? There are whole parts of my writing I don't second guess -- but unless I'm called on to defend it, I'm not aware of the parts which I think work. When I am, and I can, I become more aware of the underpinnings for a lot of what goes on the 'page'. But if asked, I would say I doubt all the words, most of the time, and just switch them up under the magnifying glass.
Apr. 1st, 2008 10:31 pm (UTC)
I'm sure it will not surprise you to learn that I feel almost the same way about making a comic (I refer mostly to the drawing process here; my writing process hardly feels like a process at all these days). Most days are just me struggling over ever little line, and the only way to get through it is to hope it all works out in the end. I occasionally have days where I feel like I can do no wrong at the drawing board, and wow, they are magical!

Sadly, telling a long story in comic format is a slow slog. I think I will be in that middle-of-the-book phase forEVER. (Sigh.)

I'll have to get back to you on how many years of remove it takes me to see my comic objectively, though. I don't seem to have reached that point yet...
Apr. 2nd, 2008 05:19 am (UTC)
I think I will be in that middle-of-the-book phase forEVER. (Sigh.)

For my multi-book work (which, come to think, is pretty much all of it), I have a beginning, middle, and end section for each book. Beginnings are hard to get right, but easier in other ways, because there's still that joy of discovery when narrative incident mugs the plot you thought you had going.

So, although it's part of one long story, it's not all middle-of-the-book. I think.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )