Thursday, October 8, 2009

Writing Fish Guts

From 9/13/05:

One thing I notice amongst the very dedicated, nose-to-the-grindstone writers is that there is always a point during the writing that they think what they've written is complete crap. There are some people who think their writing is perfect from the first word they lay down to the last and will not bear any edits, but these are not REAL writers. Sorry, but they're not. Real writers try to perfect their work, try to learn new techniques, try to push their creative envelopes. Sometimes they fail, sometimes don't, but they keep an eye out for what works and what doesn't.

I'm no exception to the "I think it's crap" phenomenon. There is ALWAYS a point where I mutter as I write, "this is crap, this is crap, this is crap," and much of the time I'm holding my nose as I'm stuffing that manuscript into the envelope and sending it to the publisher after multiple drafts. Trust me, if I turned in in a manuscript at the point where I though it was perfect, I'd never turn in another manuscript. Ever.

But, writing is an organic process, and when you're going organic, crap is good. Crap is fertilizer. Horse, cow, and chicken manure, also bunny poop. So are fish guts, which might be a step up from crap, but not a big step. A lot of good growing things come out of fertilizer. Think about all the beautiful flowers and vegetables that grow in a garden because of a liberal use of crap and fish guts.

Now, we writers--the story farmers--see the dirt, crap, and fish guts. We're in there with our fingers in it and it's on our clothes and shoes and maybe even our faces. It's there as we hoe and plant the seeds, prune the branches, tie back the vines, and it's there when we pull the weeds. We know what goes in it, even as the sprouts start to push up through the dirt and the flowers form. Farmers see the crap all over the place. They know what crap to use and when and how much, and then keep an eye on the weather as they work. They are crap artists. They create lovely luscious living things out of crap.

But everyone else, the city folk, they're seeing the gorgeous flowers and the crunchy cool cucumbers and sweet ripe red and yellow tomatoes and nothing else. Hell, they don't even get the good stuff. The good stuff is home grown, nurtured out of the black earth with our own hands and hard work. You think not? Get thee hence and try a home-grown, ripe, red Sweet 100 cherry tomato and tell me what you think. Every good book you read is like that, home grown and so sweet and tart it hurts your teeth when you bite into it, and thirst-quenching when the juices run down your throat. It's so good you eat it like candy, I swear to God, and thank God for it. A home-grown tomato might not be perfectly formed like those ones in the grocery store, but they go down so much better. I'll choose a weird looking ripe, home grown tomato over a perfectly formed store-bought every time.

So the next time you panic over your writing and think it's crap, think, "fish guts." I personally use "bunny poop," since that's what goes in my compost. Anything that makes you think of the growing properties of fertilizer will work. Just get your hands in that good black earth and make it fruitful.