Look, I’m just going to come out with a terrible truth. Sometimes, writers, we skedaddle. We run away from a story or an unfinished novel or from writing entirely. We GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE.
We drop everything when we run, abandoning perfectly good stories mid-revision, leaving unfinished novels, poems, sometimes even lifetimes of writing in the dust. Dropping novels-in-progress, shutting poems in drawers, denying we’ve ever even written them – it’s like Mount Vesuvius is erupting and that writing is Pompeii and we can’t get out fast enough. And the story or novel does not get written and does not get published, and we are left feeling like that most awkward of monsters: the writer what doesn’t write.
Why do writers run? I’ve seen it happen for three reasons – Possibly there are more, but all of these have happened to me.
1) The Story (novel/poem/play/memoir) Curdles. A writer (usually a person who KNOWS deep down they are meant to write, or believes it, or sometimes feel it, but hasn’t been writing because: life) produces a story. It feels alive. Two days later, we read it again and it has turned. Like old milk. It’s bad. It’s not what we meant to say. It’s not up to our standards. It leaves a sour taste. We can’t even stand it long enough to read it, let alone revise it. We convince ourselves we imagined the original sweetness.
2) The Story (or Novel) Goes Cold. We write a story (or a scene or a piece of novel or a beginning). We go on vacation or work gets crazy or something happens. We come back and the story has lost all its life. It’s stale. It’s cold. We convince ourselves that it’s dead. Or maybe that it was never alive in the first place.
3) The Story Hardens and Goes Fragile. We have a draft or even just a beginning, but somehow it feels too fragile to alter. What if we disrupt the delicate balance? What if we make a mess? We convince ourselves that nudging anything but the first three sentences will cause the entire thing to collapse.
Why does this all happen? How do we reverse the process? I have no idea, but I suspect the answer is encoded in this terrifying word: Revision.
Revision: (n) 1610s, “act of revising” from Late Latin Revisionem, The Act of Seeing Again.
Revision is running back into the explosion. It’s running back to the house on fire. It’s deciding to stay and see what happens when Vesuvius explodes. It’s metal as hell.
This summer, The Escapery is dedicating a workshop to ways of seeing again. In Boom, we will consider work with new eyes, from a new angle, with Groucho Marx glasses, underwater, in invisible ink, through the wrong end of a telescope, under a microscope. We will take up our old stories and story beginnings and revisit them, explode them from within, and if you are reading this, we would love to write with you. If you want a place to start writing those beginnings, check out Stone & Story in Oakland, facilitated by the Word Shaman Nancy Au.
Meanwhile, here is a writing experiment to try out:
The Worst Case Scenario Totally Metal Break Everything Revision Experiment
This is a dramatic revision exercise inspired by Josh Mohr, a great writing teacher, and by his work. Go say hi!
1) Take a story, scene, or poem you’ve already written.
2) Print it out (highly recommended. This will help with the fear of damaging the story).
3) Find something in the story you can break. Smash the hell out of it. No, really. Explode it. Set it on fire. Set it on fire and then break it. Let a character throw it. Let it shatter everywhere. Make a huge mess in the middle of your story. Make a huge mess in the middle of your page. Write under lines, write over lines, cross out so violently you breakthrough the page – and if you break through and make a hole, see how the words on the next page fit.
4) Consider: is there an object in the story? Break it. Is there a character? Kill them. Is there a sentence you can destroy? What about the environment? Can you set the room on fire? Can you spill something? DESTROY!
Questions? Want more? Write to us! We can’t wait to write and revise and set things on fire with you.