This week we’re reading chapters 8-9 (I just realized this morning that I forgot to include that in Friday’s post!), and there is almost too much good stuff in here to cram into one sitting. So thankfully we have forums! This excerpt is from chapter 8, “The Black Box.” I’m going to put some of his words in bold, just to help them stand out for discussion’s sake.
So, songs require patience. Books require endurance. Songs are 100-meter dashes. Books are marathons. You have a lot more opportunity to question your sanity when you’re battling your way through the jungle of a novel for a year.
But how are they the same?
They both take work. Different kinds of work, but it’s all work.
They both require imagination—“imaging” something in your mind that doesn’t yet exist—and also creativity, which is the work of incarnating the idea.
They both require courage. That isn’t to say that I’m particularly courageous, but that I’m particularly afraid. Afraid of rejection. Afraid of failure. Afraid of ridicule. Fear is a mighty wind, and some of us merely have a creative spark.
Perhaps most important, they both require revision. And revision usually means collaboration. Whenever I talk to students, one of the key points I try to make is that their teachers aren’t crazy or cruel to make them edit and revise their papers. Author Jonathan Rogers gave me that advice on things to talk about at school visits. Not only do the kids need to learn revision, they need to hear from someone else that their teachers are right. The thing the Resistance doesn’t want you to know is that revision is the fun part. My brother, an author and playwright, is also a formidable editor. He understands story as well as anyone I know, and he delights in revision.
Once he told me that the hard part is finding the clay, the raw material of the story. It takes work to harvest clay. You have to go to a stream and grab a bucket of mud, mix it with water, sift out the rougher sediment, pour off the water, allow the moisture to seep through a cloth for days. That’s your first draft. After that you get to flop the clay onto the pottery wheel and turn it into something better than mud, hopefully something both useful and beautiful. That’s revision. Whether you’re writing a song or a story, you have to shape it and reshape it, scrap it and start over, always working it as close as it can get to the thing it wants to become. But first you need that muddy lump, the first draft.
After that, when the shaping begins, how do you know if you’re on the right track? You share it with someone. (Again, courage is a requirement.) But not just anyone. Share it with a better writer than you. Share it with someone who’ll be careful with you, who will tell you the truth in love. Sometimes you’ll thank them kindly and ignore them completely because what do they know, anyway? Other times they’ll confirm your worst suspicions, because you knew all along that something wasn’t working, but, let’s face it again, you were being lazy. You just wanted to be done. That’s the cancer. That’s the nest of roaches you have to exterminate from your story. Roll up your sleeves and kill them dead, because the world has enough bad stories. Nobody said it would be easy.
Discussion: Which of these requirements (in bold) is most difficult for you? Which is most exciting?
Andrew talks most in this passage about revision. Why do you think that is?
If your creative work is neither songwriting nor novel-writing, how would you characterize that kind of work? What does it require that is the same? What’s different?
Come on over to the forum to talk about other sections of this week’s reading. I can’t wait to hear what stands out to you.