Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Almighty Psyche

Writers are a strange lot. I used to attend conventions where I would meet and spend time with other writers. A lot of these people are, like me, rather quiet and of a mild disposition in a public setting. However, all writers have at least a decent amount of ego: hence the fact that they think that anything they pen is worthy of viewing.

When I would hang out with writers I would mainly find myself perplexed and disgusted by them. For the fact that I would find myself surrounded by these hyper-inflated egos. And I would then discover myself often standing on my temper with both feet, wanting to pop those egos like the extended balloons they so resembled in spirit. So I stopped attending these gatherings.

I haven't been to one in decades and I don't really miss much about them.

Which brings me to want to discuss, at least briefly, the idea of knowing how and when to walk away from an idea or a project.

One of my biggest obstacles as an author is trying to decide if  the muse has presented me with something of merit. And most writers will tell you that there is no shortage of ideas. Our minds are packed to bursting with ideas and all of them vying for the opportunity to escape and find their ways eventually to the page and, if possible, publication. The ideas come and go endlessly, with even the worst of them lingering as echos in the conscious and unconscious mind.

And that's the biggest problem: trying to decide if an idea is worthy of pursuit and labor, or whether it's a travesty that should be--as best it can be--forgotten and put down. (Too many writers don't know when an idea is awful, thus we have the monstrosity known as ebooks and self-publishing.) 

Sometimes an idea will occur to me and I will immediately decide that it's not worth my effort and I will let it pass. They're like the well-known herd of cats, never coming in an orderly queue, but bounding and scattering in a thousand directions, but all vying to be first and foremost.

Other times the idea will present itself as a reasonable candidate to be blessed with attention by the almighty psyche. And among those initial decisions are ones that deserve the time, and those that only seem to be worth that time.

Since time, really, is all that we have (as Bukowski always said), then the germ of a story or a
poem or a novel had best be really fine. If not, it's like the nagging boss, or the complaining neighbor, or the screeching relatives, or the barking dogs, or the demanding paper-pushers at City Hall. There are just so many hours in a man's life and no shortage of people and things waiting to snatch them from one's grasp.

Some ideas are like that. It will appear as a raging, beautiful beast, demanding to be set free. And the writer will take a first look at the thing, glorious and fine and powerful, obviously deserving of each and every second that impulse has dictated for it. One embraces the idea and goes to work.

And then...a thousand words later, ten thousand words later, perhaps a hundred thousand words beyond that decision, the writer steps back and takes a good, long, lingering look at what he has created from that nagging idea. One looks at the project that has consumed your inspiration like phosphorous on pure oxygen. Objectivity peeks in for the first time.

And that glorious creature is not so noble and not so grand. It is, in fact, a shaking, shivering, silly construct.

There, then, the author finds himself with a problem. Which view is the right one? Is the tale shining and gleaming and worth release into the wider world? Or is it a sick, pathetic, dying thing that should be put down and buried beneath a shroud of dark earth?

Knowing when to walk away from an idea sometimes comes later rather than sooner.

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