Today a student was asked what he would change about himself if he could anything with a snap of his fingers. He said he wouldn’t change anything.
Some people might say this if they have accepted themselves flaws and all. Some people might say this if they believe themselves right. They can’t conceive that anything about themselves would need changing.
This particular student had already said he hadn’t come here to make friends and wasn’t going to change just because he was in a new culture.
When do you know to change your work and when do you know to stand by it? How far are you ever willing to change your work? A few words here, a verb tense there, a character’s name, a plot point, a theme, the whole idea you thought you had?
Could you be blind to what needs changing or too insecure to stay true?
14 thoughts on “Snap Your Fingers”
I might be willing to change something I kept hearing over and over was a problem; or hearing it from the right person might make a difference. There’s a lot in the messenger as well as the message.
The first time someone suggested I had a problem with my writing I slipped into a deep funk from which it took a few days to emerge. I had to face the idea that my best effort wasn’t good enough, would need changing, and had to be looked at critically. It hurt because I maintained that this was my best effort, and if it’s not good enough, then I’m not good enough.
I did emerge, I did make the change and I did try and get things back on track. But I lost a lot of valuable time and a good learning experience by allowing myself to react that way instead of seeing the help for what it was.
Same thing happened when I submitted some pages to Marvel Comics back in the early 90s. Only that funk lasted about six months. So I’ve grown since then at least.
Oh, the messenger is important–but don’t shoot him.
Why is it that we tie so much of our self-worth into our writing? Well, at least you’ve grown!
It would be easy to fall back on having been an editor for so long, suggesting changes or accept things as they were. It would then fall into place that making suggestions or encouraging things as they were in the role of a teacher added to the muscle memory that has to do with how well a thing works. But I believe the real answer is reaching the stage of taking risks so often that I knew when I wasn’t taking risk but was only imitating my earlier “feels right” or someone else’s. Didn’t hurt to conflate acting with developing authentic characters and authentic narrative voice because there, too, immitation is not really satisfying or comforting. Then, when an editor gives me suggestions, I am able to see editor’s notes as indications of soft spots, places that need revisiting. From there, the answers that come forth either affirm what I already did or suggest alternate approaches.
There is that plateau you are already reaching, where such things are well beyond mere security or insecurity, and more in the realm of feeling right for you.
I hope I know when things feel right.
Why would he move here if he doesn’t want anything to do with here? Hmm.
As for writing, I would think the goal is to be the best, and that would mean constantly looking for ways to improve. Give me a sec and I’ll think of a way to relate it to gardening! Like weeding, pruning – those things always need to be done to maintain the health of the garden, and sometimes plants will need to be moved to a sunnier spot, or a wetter spot – and I would think similar things apply to writing too. Some words are weeds, some need more light – always strive for the best health of the WIP, the garden, anything really. You know?
It probably comes down to choosing one of 2 things – the work, or the ego.
I don’t know, Darcs. But he is rare among my students. Students usually want to become more a part of things and learn and change. He really does drive me crazy.
Oh, and yes–the work or the ego! That is it.
That wouldn’t, by any chance, be the same fellow who didn’t intend to talk in the ESL class — would it?
When I set out on the current-and-I-hope-final-version-if-not-draft of the WIP, after leaving it lie around for years, I meant to rewrite it from scratch. And I’m rewriting maybe 80% of it; the remaining 20% includes fairly major but, uh, not-written things like the story’s general plotline, the characters’ back stories, and so on. I really, really used to love all my “darlings” in earlier drafts, and I wanted noting to do with them on this go-round. (I hope I haven’t enlisted new ones in the meantime!)
When I was learning programming, a prominent school of thought was called “egoless programming.” It’s probably impossible for two programmers ever to produce exactly the same solution to a given problem (other than trivial ones, I mean), and this makes it very difficult to separate the creation from the creator when, say, you’re doing a group walkthrough of a particular solution. So you learn as a critic never to say “YOU did this and that” or “YOU have introduced a point of failure here” — like that. Instead, you always talk about the program (subroutine, function, section of code). The idea is to make it easier for the programmer/creator to understand and accept flaws (real or potential) in the program. And, of course, to correct them.
Which is pretty much what DarcsFalcon said, more concisely, about the work vs. the ego.
Love Shelly’s “soft spot” idea. That’s exactly how it feels in revision; I end up circling whole paragraphs, or groups of them, because even though I can’t quite put my finger on it at the moment, the whole thing feels squishy.
Yes, that would be the same student. Surprise.
Egoless programing–I like that. Good luck again and again with the WIP.
At this point, I don’t have any problem changing my work for an editor. I don’t have a huge, grand vision which must be upheld. Do I want to be published? Yeah? Well, then, somebody might ask me to change something, and if their reasons make any kind of sense to me, I’d be silly not to do it with that goal of publication in mind.
That being said, I doubt I’d get to the point of an editor asking for changes if the book wasn’t solid in the first place. I don’t think someone would ask me to rewrite the entire second half, or remove three of the supporting characters. The changes would likely be more cosmetic.
I might change my mind after I’ve been published a while, but right now I feel like clay ready to be molded. My vision is flexible, and my ego figures in very little. I think.
That sounds good to me.
I think when people are too attached to maintaining their own status quo, their own delicate balance of power, belief, identity and strength, they refuse to change. Like your student. He is probably deeply insecure, so has to hang on to his brand of machismo to feel good and powerful.
I think the same thing can happen to us when we are too attached to our material, dependent on its status quo to keep our, there it is again, egos intact. We are afraid that changing the story means we aren’t good enough. The story isn’t good enough.
But if we can separate the story from our selves, perhaps we can look at it for what is there. See the story for what it is, and see the shape that is trying to appear. And if we can see the shape of the tree, instead of our idea of what a tree should look like (which may be entirely different from what is there in actuality) then maybe we can prune that tree so that its shape is as beautiful as possible. Like a bonsai.
When I feel annoyed by this student, I try to remember that he is probably covering up some deeper hurts…or something. He has moments of being polite and funny. Then he closes up again.
And I know what it means to worry the story isn’t good enough–oh to be rid of that feeling!
I let my work sit for a very long time and then read it over and edit it myself before I allow myself to read anyone else’s feedback. I find I can be much more objective, sorting the useful from the simply awful.
And then how do you feel if someone suggests a change?
There are days when I can be objective… other days my insecurity gets the better of me.