‘licking it to death’

I learned that lovely turn of phrase from a sculptor who let out his studio twice a week– one day to draw or paint, one week to sculpt. The clay was a soft tan that melted under heat. To work it, there was a studio microwave were we softened blocks up. The artist, Terry Lee, would walk among us and give advice. Mine was, “You’re licking it to death.” Trying too hard to make her skin too smooth, too perfect, inspecting the exact proportional measures, putting on clay, scrapping it off again to achieve the same result.

Jody is virtually my only sculpture. The first time I tried, and perhaps the last. Not that I dislike sculpture, but it takes a lot of time, and I have too many things to do. Going over the last version of my book being one of them.

I didn’t really like the first chapter. I wrote a prologue to balance it, but I’m not happy with that, either. I got another idea. Started another prologue. Stopped. Got another idea. Started again.

After showing the revised versions and the samples to my fiance, he wonders if he didn’t like the original better. Now I’m conflicted.

How do I know if the book might have been already good enough? I was convinced it wasn’t. Now I’m not so sure. When do you realize you’re not doing anything to improve it any longer?

5 thoughts on “‘licking it to death’

  1. I wrote a big long post about not picking apart a rough draft until it is entirely finished, and then I realized you are a two time NaNo champion and have to already know. Instead, I will suggest you go visit http://www.critiquecircle.com sign up, do some critiques, and then put it up for inspection. You will get a lot of honest feedback, and if you see the same comment cropping up repeatedly from different readers, you’ll know if something needs changed.

    • It’s not a rough draft, actually. It’s a third draft, with several critiques already under my belt.

      Two, I’ve been to critique circle. They mostly told me that they loved it and wanted to read more. Only one pointed out a few logistical flaws, and I have doubts as to the qualifications of the anonymous critics.

      My dissatisfaction with critique circle and crit partner match both has me designing a new crit site under a different system, something more under the author’s control. But it doesn’t really help me know where to go with this draft.

  2. When do you realize you’re not doing anything to improve it any longer?

    When it seems like I’m going in circles confusing myself rather than seeing a clear path to a better draft, I know I’ve reached the point where I either need to call it done or take a long break from it. I think all writers have a “This isn’t good enough. This could be better,” mantra running deep inside their brains, but there’s also the danger of overworking a story to death.

    The best analogy I can think of is overworking a painting. It’s coming along well, it has a solid structure, outside opinions are favorable toward it, but you want to add a few more brush strokes. Oh, and maybe a shadow over there. Ack, is that too muddy now? Better balance it by popping in a highlight over here. You see what I’m saying? The alternate scenes can pile up to the point where you lose, if not sight, then at least that sense of direction that led you through multiple, successful drafts for the story.

    It sounds like you may be toeing this line with Blue Crystal right now. At this point, I think I’d settle for a polish and then throw it to the wol — I mean, agents. Whatever you choose to do, good luck! 🙂

    • I think half of the problem is The Artificer’s Angels. It is, in its unedited first draft form, more interesting, more compelling, funnier, better paced, and better composed than the last draft of Blue Crystal. My necessary revisions on the Angels thus far will have one or two scenes slightly reworked, and after that I’ll be smoothing bits of awkward narrative.

      I know that I’m not supposed to compare myself to better writers. But what happens when I’m comparing me-in-this-subgenre to me-in-that-subgenre? You’re right, of course. I ought to stop being so fussy and confine myself to small polishes. It still feels wrong, somehow.

  3. First, I love this sculpture by the way. I can’t believe it came out so good for a first one. You had to have done sculpting before at some point right??

    Second, I thought it was very nice meeting you on the bus yesterday, and I hope that maybe we can “randomly” meet again at some point 😉

    So after reading a few things about your concern over your story reworking and such, I might throw my 2 cents in too if you don’t mind. Ok, well since it’s very philosophical, it might be more like 20 bucks worth. lol

    I guess since I don’t write as much, I’ll draw from my experience in music and other places. I produce music – house and trance and such to be specific. When I get stuck on a track and it feels like it’s never good enough, I find that I feel that way about it because it was somebody’s negative comments that conjured up feelings of inadequacy in my abilities. I’ve had a lot of negative comments by people who I care less about their comments, and I shrug it off and move on. When it’s by somebody that I feel has some success in the area and that it should matter what they say, then it puts a huge radioactive bomb right in my enthusiasm, and detonates it with my own feelings trying to confirm that what they said was true.

    If I am honest,…well then I guess I will admit that this has happened to me within the last year or two and I still don’t know if I’ve recovered from it. I’ve had very little inspiration since. In fact, I even tried switching sub-genres to something that I didn’t even like at all. That was probably not the best idea, except for the fact that it opens up the path for exploration and then finding what I might be good at, and improves what I’m already good at by giving me a new outlet for it.

    What it all boils down to probably is that we creative types need to maintain what makes us tick. Protect it at all costs, and don’t let other people, no matter how influential, get at it to have an opportunity to inject their biases into it. If you have nothing but somebody else’s bias to go by, then we lose the heart of the matter. Sure having it all is great…being the person that is considered by many, to be such a well rounded and experienced individual can be a great idea, but it proves nothing of the heart. Granted, a certain amount of other people’s influence can be helpful, even in the negative sense, but it’s far more useful if it’s in the positive sense. People help shape our own ideas and biases, yet we should train ourselves to know when to shut out those ideas in order to preserve the intention.

    I guess what I’m saying is that you have every right to second guess yourself, but if you do, then do it because you are more passionate about a new idea. If the idea that was there already had some merit to it, then you might think to find a way to simply improve upon that one in the vein that it was made in the first place. Easier said than done right? 🙂 So I guess I’m also very fussy too, and also get no joy out of little polishes in my music. Maybe that’s right though… maybe what my music truly is missing out on is all of the polishes that make for a deeper, more interesting experience.

    I probably spend more time talking about my work than actually doing what I tell people I ought to be doing with it. I hate that about the way I handle my creativity. Probably why I never did finish any of my own stories.

    Maybe the reason we don’t like something we did as much as when we started it, is because we have grown out of it or become bored with the ideas that we were entertained with in the first place. Maybe that’s all wrong too, I don’t know. I’m rambling now I suppose.

    Any way, I had an interesting idea. Photoshop has layers that can preserve ideas that we had at one point so that we can come back later if we wanted to and then see if that idea worked better or if it might be incorporated in a new way. Maybe writing should be the same way? Wouldn’t it be great to have layers of a story? Write one idea you had, then slice that out into a hidden layer and start off with another idea that might or might not work out. Then at some point you may decide to examine them side by side and combine them into an entirely new layer.

    At some point the idea might even seem possible to produce as a type of interactive story – where you don’t necessarily “choose your own adventure”, but you choose the feel for the writing… and partly accept that there may be differences in the ultimate storyline. Obviously this wouldn’t work for published books, but maybe for a new kind of ebook.

    Another idea I’ve toyed with is maybe creating a web based collaborative creative writing tool. The problem I’ve found with collaborating on creative projects though, is that nobody ever agrees on what’s being done. If it uses a layers approach though, maybe it could work?

    I suppose that it could be very interesting to try out collaborative writing coming from the angle of accepting everything the prior writer wrote, and just spinning your own twist off of it to continue the story no matter how nutty it might start to get. I could see something like a story starting out about space pirates with fairly good character turning into bad characters before the story even really gets started…and oh by the way they’re no longer pirates,…they’re goons from the dark lord of the system, with nothing but medieval weapons to fight with…. harpoon guns mounted on futuristic space ships…lol.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s