An Inside Look at Revision: Writing the Thing Anyway

"Where Next?" by Edward Frederick Brewtnall*
Due to a variety of reasons, including a crisis of nerves (not mine) and disapprobation based on vaguely scandalized feelings (also not mine), working on Aubrey has tested my beliefs about audiences and authors.

Aubrey is one of those pieces I kept working on anyway. For someone who believes as firmly as I do in the "you've got to reach an audience" mantra, this begs an explanation (from myself). Where is the line between reaching the audience and writing "my thing?"

Here beginneth my ramblings:

Not too long ago, I read the latest book by an author of supernatural love stories. Her writing is kind of dopey, but I quite enjoy the sheer exuberance of her earlier novels (Greek gods! Immortal warriors! Lots of gunfights! Plot denouements that make no sense!). Her later books lack this exuberance. My theory is (1) constantly producing books takes its toll; (2) she felt a need to write like her peers/fellow genre-writers, some of whom are better craftswomen in their own way.

By trying to be like these other writers, her writing lost its own edge. The lesson: at some point, a writer has to decide, "I'm going to write my story this way anyway." As Joe mentioned in an earlier comment, writers "fixing" their own work doesn't always produce the best results.

I suppose this is where artistic integrity and on-line publishing (thanks, Eugene!) come into play. Thomas Hardy self-published Jude: The Obscure. And everybody hated it. But he did it anyway.

Of course, too much of this thumbing-the-nose doesn't go a very long way. Who reads Jude: The Obscure now? I never do. But people are forced to read other things by Hardy, so I suppose it worked.

My personal writing philosophy is what Dorothy Sayers, speaking through Harriet Vane, states in Gaudy Night. Harriet meets a woman who left academe to marry a farmer on the principle, in sum, that "farming is more noble than sitting around discussing obscure academic ideas."

Harriet doesn't disagree with her, but she does say, as tactfully as Harriet can, something to the effect of, "Wouldn't it have been better for you to use your education in a job where you could earn money using your skills? You could then give the money to the farmer if that's what matters to you. But why waste your intellectual training?"

This conversation dovetails with a recurring idea in Sayers' book: that we are best served doing the thing that we each individually can do--rather than the thing that somebody else can do. Math may be more important than writing (although in this day and age . . . ) but for me to teach math would be a joke--especially since I teach writing so much better.

Do the thing you can and should do, not the thing that someone else is doing even if it is grander or supposedly more relevant or supposedly more cute or supposedly more diplomatic.

Besides, even if I had the skills to write Moby-Dick, I wouldn't really want to.

Of course, Moby-Dick didn't become the great American classic until Melville died! But when/how things become renowned (and whether they stay that way) is another idea for another post.

In any case, Aubrey is the thing I wanted to produce, and it's been produced. *Whew.*

*This is absolutely my favorite picture amongst all those I found for Aubrey (Eugene ended up using it for the cover of the Second Roesia novella, Richard: The Ethics of Affection). It encapsulates for me the essence of my favorite fictional relationships: affectionate and equal. Despite the Victorian dress, the man and the woman are equally absorbed, equally engaged, equally inquiring. She's no wilting rose petal! 

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