Saturday, December 8, 2012

Your writing is not a watercolor and you’re not Picasso.

So a long time ago, I was talking to a friend, a painter. We were kibitzing about the challenges of trying to make a living as “artists.” (This was before I learned that most artistic people scratching out a living are called “creatives” and are busy making commercials and ads for businesses that see them as all interchangeable.)

Then my friend had a question. “If an editor reads your stuff and they didn’t like it, would you change it?”

My answer was “Yes, I have to.” The look of shock I got, shocked me. Then her face changed into something boarding on pity.

That’s an essential difference between the visual and performing arts and writing. The arts that hit your brain straight through your senses, be it music, painting and dance, are so instinctual some times that they are almost totally subjective. Literally one man’s treasure is another’s trash.  Not everyone who   likes First Communion falls in love with Crucifixion. At  a moment, you can think a painting is masterpiece or a bunch of colors splashed on the canvas.

Writing is different beast. It has to be more collaborative with its editors and readers. You are aiming for a particular audience in mind and trying to speak in an engaging voice.  One flawed piece and people stop reading before they can experience the whole story.

At almost every agents panel,  you can hear the story where one agent sends back feedback to a new writer only to hear, “Why do all of you agents tell me the same thing? To make these changes will ruin my Vision!”  

First off, if several people that know your audience tell you something is off on your story, then odds are there’s something off.

Second,  the only vision a writer should have is “Nothing is sacred.”  A beautifully written line in the wrong spot is still inherently wrong. Despite how much of your heart and skill is in a scene. If that scene drags down the story at that point, move it. Sometimes you’ll find out that the perfect place to put it is not in that particular novel at all.

As a quick side note,  there’s no denying the frustration that one feels when your work doesn’t match up with your hopes and expectations.

Ira Glass addressed this beautifully. Do a lot work.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

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