When I was in high school, there were three types of music I loved most. Alt rock was my mainstay, led by bands like U2 and REM. New Wave was a close second, with DEVO and Flock of Seagulls high on my list. And then there was punk. Henry Rollins, the Ramones, anything that was stripped down to a guitar, bass and drums with a driving beat and often loud lead singer. And thus I take the long way around to Suicidal Tendencies, a punk/thrash band that was really so much more than any of the things it represented.
Now listen. You may not like this type of music. I’m not asking you to. I’m simply relaying a charming anecdote about my childhood, the sort of thing my two or three readers want to know about it. This is about appeasing the masses, playing to the crowd, and getting my groove on for my fans.
The chorus of Institutionalized (video above) goes “I’m not crazy!” And I’m not. I thought I was, and sometimes I exhibit questionable, very strange, highly bizarre behavior, but it turns out its more of the normal variety of weird, geeky, bad pun and sarcasm type of crazy. Thank you to my wife for putting up with my strange ways. She really is a saint.
But the crazy I’m talking about today is writer crazy. We are all batshit fuck nuggets dragging ourselves through doom and gloom and despair to churn out the works we want/hope/pray to publish crazy. We get this lunatic idea – I’M GOING TO WRITE ABOUT COSMIC SPIDER MONKEYS WAGING WAR AGAINST INTERGALACTIC CRABS!!!! – and we sit our plump posteriors down at our chairs and we bang away at our keyboards for 80,000 or 120,000 or 250,000 words (if you’re Stephen King, because you’ll have a TON to say about those spider monkeys and crabs, and damned if it doesn’t work for you, you magnificent bastard), and you’ll cry and bleed and sweat. And then one day, you’ll be done, and you will revel in your glory, the genius that is you. You are a writing GOD.
For that one. Single. Glorious. Day.
So you put that puppy away and you feel pretty fucking special. You are that single perfect snowflake, falling from the sky, ready to join all the… wait, there’s like millions of you already lying on the ground, damn, there’s not a place you can go to be on your own, you’re just one of the masses, lost in the giant sky dandruff! Argh!!!
Sorry, psychotic break.
And a few days, or weeks, or months later you open the book that you, yourself, with your tiny little fingers and massive big brain have created, ready to get to work on making those tiny little tweaks that are needed in order to smooth out any slight bumps and turn it into the million copy best seller you were sure it was when you packed it away. You smile and take out your pen, or you turn on your screen, and there it is, staring you in the face. There it is, all those hours of hard labor, sweat equity, lost time with friends and family. This book that you have told them is going to be awesome, even as you sputtered your way through another attempt to explain it because they couldn’t possibly get it, and anyways, they’re looking at you with those eyes, those eyes that say “pull the other one” as you drone on and on and on.
You take the first page in hand. And you begin reading.
And you vomit all over your shoes.
It’s bad. Like epically bad. Pretty much biblically horrible. This is a Cecil B. Demille disaster film mashed up with a ludicrous M. Knight Shamalan ending badness. A Michael Bay film is comparatively a work of fucking Shakespeare compared with this pile of putrid, festering dung bottoms. You realize with a sinking heart that you are not a genius. You are not talented. You are not even merely competent. You, my friend… you suck.
This is how most of us are. Say it’s not so, and I’ll say “fine,” and I will nod and smile my way out of the room. There comes a time when most writers revisit that first draft and think “this sucks.” I do it, and I know plenty of other folks do it. It’s a part of the job, because we A) are sick of what we’ve written; and B) have enough distance from it now that we can see it with fresh eyes. And boy, are those eyes telling us we got some ‘splaining to do.
This happened to me with my first. And it happened pretty fast, I didn’t have to wait weeks or months. Within a few days of wrapping up the first draft I tossed it into a hidden folder on my desktop and decided never to read it again. It stank. I did eventually revisit it…. several years later. A massive re-write has massively improved it.
My latest novel suffered from a different problem. Even now, almost six months since I finished it, I still like the damned thing. Which makes me think I’m crazy because that’s just not how this is supposed to go. And readers seem to love it, too. So I decided “we must all be crazy” and hired an editor to help with developmental issues. I had a whole list of things I was worried about, from the transition from “normal world” to “fantasy world”, the arcs of the characters, their motivations, the setting, etc., etc.
And the editor loves it. She also came back with a TON of wonderful suggestions that yes, I can see will absolutely improve it, help to shorten it, fix some issues here and there with the overall story. We both agree there’s really good stuff that will be lost when I make those changes, but the overall story will get tighter. But most of the things I worried about simply weren’t any problem. It’s really… it’s good. It is. And that makes me thrilled beyond belief. I’ll save the cut sections to a dump file and maybe publish it later as a novella or something. But her response was glowing, and I have to admit…
I’m not crazy! So at least I’ve got that going for me….