I had a good argument last night. It was four hours long, full of passion, ego, uncertainty, and pain.
I would do it again.
See, we were talking about writing. Underconfident yet intensely fond of her work, she clung fiercely to her words. She wondered if they were enough. She wondered why people criticized them so much, why the criticisms differed so much.
Danger Will Robinson: she asked my opinion.
Rule number one. If you want to keep your relationship, don't critique a close friend who aspires to fiction.
I am not very good at keeping rules.
Yes, we got on each others' nerves. We had misunderstandings. Playful jabs became unintended daggers lodged in the unnoticed chinks of tentative minds.
For some reason, I have --in the space of less than a year-- become very confident in my writing. I have found confidence to be something completely different than I thought it would be. Confidence doesn't lie in a realization that I'm good. Rather, it comes by actually, at some point, writing something I truly enjoy reading -- even if it's only a paragraph or two. For the first time, I started smiling at my own text.
This was huge. For me, it involved:
- Knowing what to write. It seems obvious in narrative nonfiction, but it's not. A good eye for drama is necessary.
- Writing. A bottom-up kind of programmer, I was trying to top-down engineer my writing. I have since settled somewhere in-betwee. Tinderbox helps me write what comes to mind before I have the big picture. The big picture can gate-crash the party later. If the pieces are good, and they connect tightly, I know the big picture will show up. (my upcoming Tekka article deals with this) This keeps me from becoming over-philosophical or 19th century Romantic.
- Knowing when something is inadequate [ like my Tekka article. Please send feedback, O committee, so I can revise.]
- Knowing what makes it inadequate so I can fix it. In code, running a debugger helps us find where the problem ocurred. Studying Literature has given me a good mental debugger for text.
- Fixing it. Editing for me feels like debugging, except I rewrite much more than I would with code. Tracy Kidder rewrites multiple times, until, as he says, the prose is "as clear as a pane of glass." I firmly believe that the creative process is the editing process. This is where things tie together.
I know I have done something good in the past, and I have at least a sense of how to get there again. Thus, my confidence in writing is fairly high. I'm never at a loss, and never at the point where I know it's good, but nobody else thinks so.
We banged heads. We threw excerpts, ideas, philosophies, and books at each other. I quoted writers, she quoted writers. I even rewrote a section of her work:
"Hsssst." The pnuematic lift retracted. Joli heard the hiss beckon from two hundred feet away. The baby kicked inside. "Fetus," they had called her child.
Joli squirmed, her sweat clinging to the hospital gown. The hallway of mirrors was broken only by an occasional doorway or another hall. They were dim, and they flashed by so quickly. Who lived inside this...place? The effect was surreal. A cacophony of reflection passed endlessly backwards as the nurses trundled her stretcher over the frighteningly-smooth floor. The doctors walked alongside, eyes fixed ahead. The reflection of their focused march seemed to be the only stationary image in a mirror world that never seemed to stop.
My friend ripped into my rewrite like the pro she is. She would do it differently, of course
Now it was personal -- I was stepping onto her territory, trying to portray her vision.
But it worked. In the end, both of us learned a good number of things about writing.