How fragile our egos are! And I am speaking specifically of my own here.
Preface to say, writing is a funny obsession. I write primarily for three reasons: Obviously because I can’t help myself and also because it is a very useful exercise to explain the world to oneself; but also because my writing is a living testament to my long walk across this vast planet.
You’ll notice I didn’t say that my writing had anything to do with commercial gain. I recognize there are too many writers out there that are better, smarter and more connected than me so I’ve always considered the thought of being published as an extremely long shot.
So I just finished writing the first draft of my second novel. I sent it out to four or five friends/family and just received back my first ‘review’.
And the exchange of emails went like this:
Him – “The writing is a little rough for my taste. I like the setting and much of the detail. See my comments for further advice. I fixed a few things – you really need to separate paragraphs and changes of voice in dialog.”
Me – “Question, isn’t a first draft really more about the quality of the story than the quality of the writing? And I think you meant to say epilogue not prologue (because there isn’t a prologue). If that’s the case, you read the beginning chapter and the end chapter.
It seems our respective approach to writing is completely different. I am looking in the first draft to create a story and hopefully an interesting one. And I expect that story to hold together from the intro through the middle to the very end. I don’t think you can adequately judge the performance by that metric of only reading the first and last chapters.”
Him – “As for your writing distinction, I don’t think I draw that difference: the quality of the writing IS the quality of the story. It was difficult to parse the flow of dialog, which was disruptive to the tale. And regarding the content, I’d be more interested in the dynamic between Jacque and Paul than the litany of food which seems to be the focus. By the end of the chapter, one wonders what the point was: to enumerate various edibles/beverages/smokeables, or to tee-up the trajectory of Paul. The latter comes across as something of an afterthought tagged on at the end. Sorry – that’s how it reads.”
Me – “It’s a first draft and to me a first draft is all about nailing up the story. Apart from that, I totally disagree that the quality of the writing IS the story. The two are independent. Example, the Harry Potter stories are not great literature (or great writing). But the stories are compelling. Faulkner/Pynchon/Joyce are famous for their great literature (writing) but do not necessarily produce ‘accessible’ (good) stories.”
PS – You can’t copyright quality writing but you can copyright a story. Which further means the intellectual property is tied to the contents of the story and has nothing to do with the subjectiveness of quality.)”
Him – “I think the story was obscured by the style of it.”
I didn’t bother to respond to his last comment as the discussion was degenerating into a pissing contest. I will contend that my friend studied literature at Yale while I studied engineering at a state school in Texas. And he is arguably smarter than I am – he’s one of the smartest guys I know – and he is without question the best project manager and technical documents writer I have ever known. But I really took his comments as a kick in the balls.
How many times do I have to say it? It’s a first draft! And I still maintain that a first draft is about getting the story on paper to where it has a coherent beginning, middle and an end. And yes, the coherency includes a consistency and sustainable character and plot development.
And the story must be compelling. After all, it’s a story! I leave the creation of literature to others. For me I am merely trying to capture those people, events, tastes, meals, and travels that have helped shape my life; as well as to capture on paper what I consider to be the true distillation of my time spent on Earth.
PS – This first draft of my second novel is actually Part II of a trilogy that I set out to write in 2008. Why a trilogy? Let me explain by way of example. The day after I finished the draft of Part II, I started Part III and I am now 16,000 words into the new story; that’s how psyched I was. I’ve discovered that writing a series of stories about the same people and places is to inhabit another world; and better, a world of one’s own choosing.
And the act of writing drops me into that very same world which I am sustaining by the action of my fingers engaging a keyboard.
And like how God spoke the world into creation. I too am participating in my own little act of creation. And God’s response to his creative acts was he saw ‘it was good.’ And I can now better understand his reaction – albeit in my own microcosmic kind of way – in that I too can pass judgment on my own work and pronounce what I have done as being both satisfying and purposeful.