Bless This Mess


I make a rule not to make too many rules. If I say to people, "I do X drafts of a novel before moving on," I know that's not a rule, but an observation — it's a statistic derived from previous activity. Not something I try to conform to pre-emptively.

The Fall Of The Hammer so far has the messiest and most fractured first draft of any book I can remember. I've had to back up and rewrite entire sections more than once, and I'm still not sure about whether the throughline I've been trying to develop is the right one. But all this I have to temper with another insight: sometimes you have to write something badly to be able to write it well.

I've long been of the belief that the most underrated qualities in creative people are not the ones we associate outwardly with creativity. Persistence and diligence are far more important than being "creative", because those are how the rest of being creative is unlocked in the first place. If you spend your whole life waiting for lightning to strike so you can do that One Perfect Thing, you wind up doing little more than idling on a hillside.

One of the little missions I've made for myself is to try and demythologize, for both myself and others, the cult of the creative person. Too much of what we think we know about creative work is informed by mythmaking and extreme cases, and not the work as it's actually performed. We think that by taking the mystery out of the process, we'll take the mystery out of the product as well. But this is just wrong. I know intimately the technical details of how Douglas Trumbull accomplished the "light trip" effects in 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that doesn't change one whit the hair-raising, mind-mutating magic of what's on screen.

When this book is done, I'm going to have a fun time laying out how drastically it changed over the course of its lifetime, at one point shedding everything but its title and a few core ideas. But I'm specifically going to lay out how the draft process was such a rough road. Things I thought I had nailed down and understood intuitively were actually not nailed down or understood at all; motives for characters shifted; ideas that seemed great at first glance turned out to be nothing but gimmicks. All of it had to face scrutiny. Everything had to run the risk of being canned. Without that, I wasn't going to have anything worth delivering at all.

I've been over this territory enough times to know that's just how it works. But all anyone ever sees, for the most part, is the finished product. That's what's most deceptive about this job: you can assume, far too easily, that what you pick up and read was what came out the first time for someone else. You can lead yourself to believe that rewriting is a sign of some failing on your part, that when everything else seems to have popped out fully formed as if from the forehead of Zeus, your inability to germinate something that complete is just another sign you're not cut out for this and should go drive cabs or something.

Most people I meet these days just getting into the writing game seem, thankfully, to understand on a gut level that writing is rewriting. The process is in many ways more important than the product; the product is just a sign that you've traversed the process, like the certificate you get at the end of the training course. Nobody confuses that scrap of paper with the actual knowledge; it's just a signifier. But when you're stuck halfway from here to there with nothing but ink on your fingers and incomplete sentences littering the page in front of you, it can sure feel different.

I'm lucky, in that I have a klatsch of friends who buoy me up whenever I feel crushed under by the weight of all this. They remind me that at its best, this work is not heavy, but in fact lighter than air. Even if it doesn't feel that way from time to time!


Tags: The Fall Of The Hammer  writing 


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This page contains a single entry by Serdar Yegulalp in the category Uncategorized / General, published on 2019/06/17 08:00.

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