Monday, January 5, 2015

The Idea of the Thing is Always Better

The idea of the man, or woman, eyeing you from across the bar is always full of passion and romance and a long life together.  The idea of the home you may one day own is always uncluttered and spacious.  And the idea of that story rattling around in your brain is always poetic and engaging and insightful.  But the reality, though it may come close, is never what you pictured in your mind.

"It’s never as good as it was in your head. When things move from the world of dreams to the world of reality, they stop being impossible and perfect.
But then, you never get to see the thing you made through other['s] eyes. And other people don’t know the perfect thing you imagined before you began. So it doesn’t matter. And you keep on making art."
-Neil Gaiman

This can be the problem with writing, and may be why so many people believe they can be writers and are willing to offer published authors their ideas, because they believe the idea is the hard part.  And sometimes … that is true.  But, if we’re being honest here, it is the crafting of that idea into something that resonates and engages and speaks to an audience that involves the real heavy lifting.  Which is why it is so difficult to become a published writer, let alone make a living at it (I’ve seen it stated, in a number of places, that 90% of working authors – regularly published authors – need a second job in order to make ends meet).  Too many people are unwilling to do the work. 

This gulf between the “idea” and “reality” of a story was made painfully clear to me this past week.  In working on the first draft of a science fiction short, I had reached a point where the protagonist was to experience a series of nightmares – horrors that would drive him mad on an alien planet.  It fit in with the overall theme and plot of the story and would propel him toward the climax.  I was looking forward to writing this scene.

Then I sat down at the computer.  And the writing was laborious.  I kept reworking sentences, sat and stared at the screen for minutes on end, and was generally unhappy with where I was going.  I finally got the first nightmare down, wherein all of his comrades have been decapitated in their sleep, and moved into the second dream.  At which point, I realized it was not working.  I saved the document and quit the program.  Then I got up and moved around a bit, did some other things, and let my brain shift away from this story. 

Except.  My subconscious was still working on that scene.  And, soon enough, it hit me.

I would scrap the ending as I had originally envisioned it and have that first dream become the character’s reality.  Waking to find his comrades decapitated, he is filled with dread.  But this quickly turns to rage, more in keeping with his character as it has developed through the writing of this first draft.  From here, the ending evolved to something that I’m far happier with.  Now I just need to write that down. 

The evolution of this scene, as well as the new ending for this story, goes back to the most important piece of advice I’ve found for writers.  In order to become a writer, you need to write.  If I had never bothered to try and get that series of dreams down, it would have remained a pristine idea in my mind, the perfect avenue to follow for this story.  Only when I finally sat down to write that scene, did I discover that it didn’t work, at which point I was free to craft an alternative that seems to fit nicely into the story.  You need to do the work.  Otherwise, you’re not a writer (or artist or athlete or educator or whatever). 



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