(A tiny, blurry photo of Nicola Griffith at her reading @Readercon . . . I took this photo while bowing my head, because I was also hunting for tissues. Her letter to Tiptree was a beautiful, moving thing.)
I am back from Readercon, which was four days of me feeling like a deer in headlights as I tried to take it all in—people to meet! Books to buy! Rapid-fire panels to fly in and out of!—but went right into day-job work and Codex contests and revisions . . . or at least avoiding revisions, which seems to be my latest area of expertise.
Writing has felt strange for several weeks now. I keep saying that I’m just tired, a little burned out, when in truth I feel closer to lost. For some time last year I felt like I was falling into a rut, that all of my ideas were too similar to things I had already written; so starting in November (NaNoWriMo is always good for such things) I tackled some ideas that felt more complex, or at least formally different.
Let’s just say the feedback has been interesting.
The upshot has been that I now feel unsure of my own intentions, which is hampering me in all aspects of my process. I understand the critiques I’m getting, I agree with pieces of them . . . but overall I feel a disconnect between what I think I’m trying to do and what people think I’m trying to do, or indeed should do. All of art is ultimately a compromise, but where I draw that line is very much up in the air right now, and the whole business has made me feel too anxious to let the conundrum resolve itself.
It could also be that I’m just writing shit all of a sudden.
But right now I’m sitting in my backyard and I’m trying to revise this story and I just thought to myself, this is where I should be. Alone, in this blessed quiet. No voices telling me what I should and shouldn’t write, no voices clamoring about their own publications and making me envious, no voices worrying about the future of stories or genre or what-does-it-all-mean-really. Just me and my voice, as it was when I began, as I promised myself it would be this time.
I have before me four different critiques of this story, none of which overlap (except for two grumbling about my love of commas, and it says much about my state of mind that I am now looking for ways to add more.) There’s also a lot of personal stuff in the feedback, moreso than usual, and while it’s nice to think “jeez, this story really touched a nerve” it isn’t helping me to do the final shaping work I know this story needs. Because while it touched a nerve, none of the four completely got it either, and that is the sure sign of more work needing to be done.
This, then, is the knife-edge of revision for me: on the one side reaching out to readers so I can know if it’s actually getting across or not; on the other, shutting out those selfsame voices so I can figure out what’s truly not working and how to fix it. It is a difficult, difficult thing to balance, and far worse when you’re treading new ground in your storytelling. I feel a little wounded; I feel as if my confidence is down a notch or two. I know too this is often my state of mind just before I level up another notch; still, it’s hard to do the work I need to do when I really just want to go to bed and pull the covers over my head.
(Which is a long way of saying that after these few short stories I am clearing my decks, the better to focus on novel revisions and re-immersing myself in the outlook I swore to adopt when I started writing again: to stay open, to stay grateful, to listen first and foremost to my own voice.)