Friday, April 18, 2014

(re)writing slowly

These are two characters from a project I've been working on for a while now. I was lamenting to my friend Anya the other day about being a slow writer. Or maybe not necessarily a slow writer, but a writer who rewrites a lot of times before she gets it right - or doesn’t get it right, and then keeps on rewriting. It means that I don't often finish something different and new. It means I spend years in the same story trying to carve out its proper shape. It means I get frustrated and disappointed with myself, because why can't I just get it right sooner?

But as I thought about it, I started to see that there are good things that come from spending so much time in the same story. Take the aforementioned project above as an example. I started writing it when my Pa started forgetting my name three years ago. It was the first time I came face to face with the realization that the people I loved best and the place I belonged to most would one day not be mine anymore. This scared me more than anything had ever scared me before and I started writing a story as a way to combat that fear. I was determined to keep these people and this place, to make them permanent so that I would never have to let them go or have them taken away from me. I can still remember where I was when I first jotted down the idea that would grow into this novel: sitting on the hill where my grandparent’s house is perched and staring out at the woods.

Fast forward two and a half years and I am revising that same novel in the hospital room where my grandfather is dying. And it’s there that my self from two years ago, the self who thought she could stop her world from crumbling using just the power of her words, meets up with the girl who is in the midst of that crumbling world and knows the truth: the words aren’t enough. And while that scared, na├»ve girl couldn’t save me from the pain and the grief of watching him die, she did something greater. She saw the chasm and she wrote a story for the girl standing on the other side.

And that would never have happened if I had gotten it right the first time.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

some days aren't yours at all

Like today. It started out with anticipation (I was waiting for my kiln to cool so I could take out my pots) and delight (three books were waiting for me on my desk when I got to work) and it ended with me melting into a puddle of self-pity on my living room floor. That mostly had to do with the fact that my kiln had over-fired, leaving me with these hideous changelings where my beautiful pots were supposed to be.

Most of the time, I can keep my head about me in the face of art-related failure. I’ve had so much rejection that now I just do my work, keep my head down, and prepare for the worst (the worst usually being "no" which actually isn't that bad, in the grand scheme of things). I can still remember the day three years ago when I got my very first official rejection from an agent on a full. She was lovely and kind and so very encouraging; and I cried my eyes out. It stung so much.

Not that rejection ever stops stinging. And maybe you don't even really get used to it. It's more that rejection (when it comes to the business of art) is a reality, so you must prepare for it and learn how to use it.

I’ve been building up my writing armour for years now, but when it comes to pottery, I don’t have much armour. When I've put myself out there with my ceramic work, I haven’t faced a ton of failure. So when all of my precious pots – the ones I spent weeks making and bisquing and waxing and glazing – have to be thrown out, and maybe a shelf or two as well, I don’t have much protection built up. As I curled up in a ball on my couch lamenting the cruelty of the world, I forgot about all the times I’ve scrapped an entire novel (three times now) and started again from scratch. I’ve forgotten how many times I’ve heard the word, “no” and “close, but not quite”.

If I were to give up on pottery after one bad firing, what good would that do me? There’s only one thing to do after a kiln over-fires, just like there's only one thing to do when you realize your writing isn't good enough: you learn and push on.

I long so much to make beautiful things. But beautiful things require effort and disappointment and perseverance.

(Vincent Van Gogh said that.)