Searching for Perspective
No matter how much I love a piece of work (whether it’s something that I’ve written or not), I can guarantee there is someone out there who will despise it. Very rarely does the collective “we” agree on any one story, and even when we do, time and distance can change our perspective on what is good or worthy. And, if quality is hard to define from the outside, it’s a million times harder when I’m trying to judge my own work.
My perspective on my own work changes over time, but not always. Sometimes I cringe, and others I’m pleasantly surprised by how a scene works or a character sounds exactly the way he had in my head. Generally, though, I think that writing for me goes in cycles, with highs and lows peppered throughout until I finally get to a place where I just…don’t know anymore. When I’m in the thick of a novel, perspective is one of the first things to go, and the hardest thing to get my arms around. The middle of a the process is where I have to turn off the inner voices altogether and just let the characters tell their story. If I pause to think about whether it’s any good or not, I’m done.
As a group, I think writers are some of the worst judges of our own work. We tend to think our writing is better than it really is, and more often, worse. While it’s a healthy part of the writing process to fall in love with a story or character, we get in trouble when we get infatuated to the point that we can no longer see the flaws. But trouble also lies on the opposite side of the perspective continuum. If as a writer, we only see the weakness in our work, we can end up paralyzed by fear and doubt. To publish a novel, we need a healthy dose of confidence combined with a willingness to change and improve. It’s a delicate balance, and one that’s almost impossible to maintain over a 300 page novel and multiple revisions.
My solution? A trusted critique partner. Every writer should have someone they trust to give it to them straight, to point out what’s working and more importantly, what’s not. This outside perspective is the only way to know if you’re truly on to something, or just spinning your wheels. But don’t rush. Get the story down first. Worry about whether it works or not later.
William Goldman, the novelist and screenwriter behind THE PRINCESS BRIDE and BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, has this wish for writers in the closing chapter of his book ADVENTURES IN THE SCREEN TRADE:
“may you have peers as willing to improve your project as you must be; treat them kindly, for they will save your ass many times over…”
I couldn’t agree with him more.
And perhaps most fittingly he ends with this wish:
“and finally and most of all…
…may all your scars…
…be little ones….”
Kind of puts it all in perspective.