Monday, September 15, 2014
How Long Is An Ideal While?
My Mollies have been coddled — and now they’re sprouting fluff.
This is what happens when you leave fiction in a drawer to marinade for a tad too long. It’s what we’re told to do as writers (usually by other writers — the captains to our privates or serfs) and the idea goes something like this:
Assuming our grammar is perfect and our first draft is typo free, the main problem our bold new prose is likely to suffer from (beyond incomprehensibility and Embryonic Maladies All) is zeal. And why not? All first drafts should be overegged by our egoes. After all, don’t we have our inner editor tied up in a trunk for the afternoon?
At first glance, what we wrote is a mess; it’s OTT, it’s the embarrassing slapdashness of a would-be genius — all of which is precisely why it should never be mailed, published, broadcast, yodelled or manifested as an all-body tattoo at this stage.
As the sage advice has it, material like this goes in a drawer, there to be forgotten until such time as we can look at it again with fresh eyes (and subsequently decide to shoot ourselves).
(That’s a metaphor, btw.)
With fresh eyes, we can separate the zeal from the prose like Gordon Ramsay peeling skin from custard with his bare teeth.
Now, the non-essential elements of our writing become perfectly visible — everything from an inappropriate image or line of dialogue to eruptions of real world narrative wrangles that somehow made it through the illusory barrier between fact and fiction. It’s amazing just how influential are the books we read the night before we wrote. Even worse: TV documentaries about paralysed acrobats or the reproductive lives of cephalopods.
Once you have everything from your drawer innerly edited, you’ll see how your material is all the better for having been tucked away for a while.
My beef at the moment is how long is an ideal while?
It’s true that the products of zeal can be cheffed off á la Ramsay chomp after a relatively short time secreted in the darkness, but if you leave stuff in a drawer for too long, it’s like the thoughts behind the words embed themselves into every serif and sans with the permanence of bloodied urine staining a silk tablecloth.
Leave stuff in a drawer for too long and it becomes incomprehensible.
The words make sense only to yourself as you were a year or more ago, and because a whole seventh of your body cells have been replaced in that time (and Smartphones are now available for the tips of your nips) — this means that pretty much everything will need to be rewritten from scratch unless you are prepared to be committed to an asylum. Sure, you get an inkling about what you were thinking, but the meta-thoughts behind the moment you wrote things down — the colour of the day, the acrobats, the state your cat’s ears were in (and the mush this day-to-day Instant Hopping makes as it rolls along) — all of this is gone, and you are left with words half-formed from thoughts you couldn’t half remember if you tried.
This is not to say that nothing can be recovered from such arcane expositions. If your inner editor can be tied up in a trunk and forced to remain silent while you zealpuke, then it ought to be perfectly possible to convert your outer Gordon Ramsay into a sort of literary vacuum cleaner (complete with narrative suction attachment) for snorting off raw material for use elsewhere.
But such archaeological sub-resurrections are no substitute for pouncing on a half-baked idea at the perfect 50/50 moment between full formation and full-on gestation. At this time you can pluck the crispness of the sense from the crassness of the waffle and know full well what you are doing.
I’ve found two weeks to a month to be my perfect drawer while.
A time span shorter than this allows my inner zealot-with-potential to be fooled by my pan-self total bloody wanker.
Give me two months, and I’m bored; six months, and I’m angry with myself for procrastinating; any longer, and I am left holding gibberish where once there was promise of a baby with a rattle and a clutch of banana yoghurt vouchers from Sainsburys.
How long is YOUR ideal WHILE?