June 9th, 2010

Egyptian hieroglyphics

The writer will see you now

I once heard a writer on a panel say, in all seriousness, “Why are people so sure they can sit down and write a book? You wouldn't expect to be able to do brain surgery the first time you tried it.” I like writers. I consider myself a writer, but I have to say writing is not brain surgery. For one thing, no one dies if you get it wrong. For another, the graduation between writing well and writing badly is a sliding scale with an infinite numbers of points on it— as opposed to say, “patient survives and is not paralyzed” versus “dead patient.”

I think mostly the guy was just feeling the lack of respect that comes from writing genre. He wanted to think that writing a book is as hard as removing a tumor from someone's frontal lobe. But the fact is, the act of putting words on paper is something almost everyone learns how to do, even if they never try to write a book. Most new writers might produce poor to middling' work the first few books, but there are some who sit down and write a masterpiece the first time they try. They are few and far between but they happen. Ever heard of any brain surgeons who skipped medical school?

I thought of this because at the moment, I am re-writing an older book that my writing group gave me some new ideas for, and in some ways, it is like surgery— not brain surgery but more like multiple organ transplants. I'm moving the guts of the story around and grafting on a few new parts while amputating others. I have to figure out which parts to keep, which to move, and which to toss, and then create in some new chunks to stitch it all together in a way that results in a live patient— er, story. In some ways, it's painful; I wish I had an anesthetic.

But it's still not brain surgery.

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