Misc updatery goes to the coffee house and dreams of perfection

I spent the evening at the coffee house, among the pagans and in the company of , , , and K, whose LJ handle I can’t recall right now. I revised the last of the three shorts I wrote recently, and am e-mailing it to the editor I’m hoping will buy it. I also drafted the initial cut of the next IROSF column with and sent it off to her.

In the immediate future I’ll play catch-up on several much-delayed collab projects and prepare for my Toastmaster gig at RadCon. I’ll probably write a couple of more shorts, just for the sake of building inventory (which is getting thin), then mail a bunch out for the sake of submissions (which are also getting thin). After that I’ll dive into revisions on Madness of Flowers.

The dynamic of shifting from primarily a short story writer to being a novelist continues to bedevil me in small ways. A lot of my long-standing internal productivity and success metrics are being violated. As I’ve said before, this is sort of like complaining about winning the lottery, but the issues are real, albeit minor.

and I were IMing recently when she said something very interesting about the writing process. (Quoted with permission, lightly edited for readability.)

I’m worried that once I sit down and write [the story], it will stop being the perfect promise of a story and start being something real and imperfect. Like dating someone you’ve had a crush on from afar. And I don’t want the heartbreak.

I find this fascinating. I completely take her meaning, though my personal experience is different. Since I generally write by following the headlights (to quote quoting E.L. Doctorow), I don’t have a “shining city on the hill” vision of a story before I begin. I usually have a central image or turn of phrase that trips me into motion.1

Still, like I have this notion of the perfected version of the story, what was recently talking about as the ur-story. She put the issue very elegantly indeed.

I think most writers have the perfected story lurking somewhere in the palimpsest of their writing process. Even those of us who follow the headlights are on some road. Certainly as novelists we are not encouraged to do utterly ballistic writing. (The exegencies of business demand outlines, for example.)

What happens to me is I reach a point on revision and editing where the voice inside my head says, “stop.” Almost literally, as it happens. I am very rarely as close to the perfected state as I’d like to be, but I also have found over the past few years as I’ve labored at my craft that I don’t experience the heartbreak nearly as often either.

Stories really do have inner lives of their own, long before they grow up and leave home. used the metaphor of dating. I more often think of them as fractious children. (Those of you who’ve met in person may appreciate why.) In either case, one aspect of the journey of the writer is to close the gap between the perfect promise and the worldly result. But that is a journey, not an outcome — seeking perfection from the first will doom you.


1 The central image which drove Death of a Starship never even made it into the book — nonetheless it was important in beginning and guiding the narrative. In that case I was rewriting a plot I’d first attempted in 1996 or so, with considerable expansions and amendments. The image in question gave me a key missing plot element, plus a very strong grounding in the flavor of the text. I had a very specific vision of an alien in a small spacecraft, an interior shot to be precise, racing across a solar system to try to stop a problem from becoming explosively large. In the novel as-written, the aliens in question never even appear on the page — they’re background actors, with one of their ships seen externally in a couple of scenes. Yet the image kicked the novel into gear and made it work.

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