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The things we like best

Every job has things you like better and things you don’t like so much in it, no matter how much you like the job on the whole. There is no job that is all the good bits, start to finish.

Me, I’m happiest when I’m writing a novel. I know there are people who enjoy having written rather than enjoying writing, but I am not them, and sometimes I marvel that they can do this job at all, because it contains a lot of writing for people who don’t enjoy writing. More power to them for making it work, and we are all a beautiful rainbow and that. But what I like best in an ordinary day is to wake up and have unwritten bits of novel spread out like a quilt before me, being able to work on whatever bit I like and having it come together into something big and wonderful.

Next to that I like drafting short stories. And next to that I like trying to draft short stories and novels simultaneously–it’s really best to separate them out when I can.

Then there is a giant step down to revision and marketing.

The thing is, I am not actually doing this just for personal fulfillment. While I am comfortable with the idea that some of my work will be trunked at some point, I am not actually writing it for the purpose of trunking it. I believe in revision! I believe in it fervently, in the idea of being able to make things wonderful that did not come out quite as wonderful as I’d hoped. Revision is a gift we are given by the universe: the fact that we, we lucky ones, we have chosen an art that is, thank God, not a performance art, and therefore we can improve it after the first rush of creation.


However, waking up and saying to myself, “Today I will improve upon the thing that is suboptimal now!” is an intellectual pleasure. It is not like writing the thing in draft, which for me is an intellectual and a visceral pleasure all at once. I never wallow in revision; I can’t. That’s not how it works for me. And the drafts, sometimes I really do wallow in those.

At the moment, I have just finished one large and one small project in revision, and I have large ones ahead of me. There is the previous thing I ran past the writers’ group, which I don’t want to let languish indefinitely half-revised. And then in December the writers’ group will meet again, and I’ll get more revision ideas there. Revision will be with me for awhile; ideally it will be with me always. But it will be with me intensely for awhile even without adding to the revision queue, which I seem to be doing pretty constantly right now.

The spigot is still attempting to gush forth new story upon me. The spigot is undeterred by revision. The spigot also does not feel revision as work, though the rest of me does. This is how I managed to finish novel revisions Saturday morning and then turn to a new story with Alec without batting an eye.

I’m trying to find the balance here, between getting done useful things that really want getting done and letting myself do the really fun wonderful things–that will also, long-term, be useful. This last week, I’ve been feeling like I “earn” my time with new stuff by doing revisions on old stuff. But I don’t want to hedge things around with so many rules that I miss the really good moments. It’s not just a matter of a player on a streak having to respect the streak, because they don’t happen very often, although you can generally do worse for platitude-mining than Bull Durham. It’s also a matter of why we do this. Why I do this. And honestly, I do this so I can write scenes about a gigantic jeweled magical orrery, and also political upheaval, and also teenagers feeling confused about pretty much everything.

So I’m going to go do that. And tomorrow, I will try to do some more revisions. But also probably more of that. Because it’s what I like best.

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