Progress in the arts is an interesting thing. With most things, when you work to improve – practicing, learning, gaining, and acting on feedback – you progress, and it is a purely positive experience. Not so with the arts.
There is a vapor trail in the arts. It sits there, pointing back to where you’ve been. We are taught to look forward, to place our eyes on our objective. However, the purpose of art is to create something that will live on its own. The work, if we are successful, will outlive us. In the business world, we work on projects, we do our best, and, at the end, we are either successful or we are not.
Few people, however, will frame their latest spreadsheets and place them on the wall.
When I wrote Emprise, early in 2011, it was by far the best work I’d ever done. I placed it on my “to be edited” shelf, in love with the work, the characters, and the story.
But a strange thing has happened since then. I have changed as a writer. Whether through growth or regression, only time will tell. In either case, I am no longer the writer I was a year ago. Emprise’s 1st draft was put to bed as my best work. I’ve now written two works that I like better. It is odd, the feeling. The book stayed the same, and somehow regressed.
That damnable progress. The work survives, and upon re-inspection, we deem it to be unworthy of our love. I have edited approximately 30,000 words so far, and almost no pages are unscathed. Perhaps that is a good thing; maybe I am making the book better since I’ve grown as a writer.
Or maybe I still sucked a year ago.
In 2011, I strove to simplify my writing, squeezing the last bits of poetry from my prose. After all, that is what the market rewards, is it not? I write books that people consistently say they like – I have never gotten a poor review. However, I also write books that almost no one reads. Perhaps I don’t have bad reviews because they cannot even finish the books.
This is not another whiny rant. It is simply an acknowledgment of the problem with creating art. It is not a spreadsheet. There is no objective evaluation of its worth. Indeed, the perceived value of a work can (and will) change over time.
There are chapters in this book I think are brilliant. There are actually places where I cry, and I wrote the book.
But Roxx had more, was more, with less.
It is hard, this being an artist. It is difficult creating a thing, and knowing not its value. There is the risk of mediocrity, which most know, but few will confess. There is the risk of brilliant anonymity – of being a Vincent Van Gogh. And there is the risk that we will look backward and forget to see the truth – not that the old work sucked, but the fact that we once loved it and no longer do must mean we have grown.
The words remain the words.
I know, logically, if once I loved them, then they must still be good. I tell myself it is change, perhaps growth. I say, “the old words do not suck.”
But then I see sales figures from others. I read books, which sell, that I cannot make myself finish. And I ask myself, did Van Gogh look at the old paintings, and believe they sucked? If one, even one had sold, would that have been enough?
What of us who want to create characters you never forget? What is the business model for us?
I don’t have the answers, but I choose to be encouraged. Fourteen months ago, when I wrote this book, I was thrilled. Now, I’m tearing things out. I suppose all we can do as artists is to trust the process. Take out the crap, leave what’s left.
We’ll see what sucks next year. In the meantime, I’ll keep cranking it out. I can feel my voice developing. The words, they are getting stronger, and the poetry is beginning to return.
Perhaps it is the work of my guardian angel. They exist, you know.
Take out the crap, add back what’s good.
It’s a thing I do.