With Respect to the Classics
I have just read A Catcher in the Rye, and finished listening to the third Lord of the Rings on audio book during my daily commute. At the same time, I am editing Unwanted Heroes and making some changes for the next printing of Oilspill dotcom. To help me with the latter, I am consulting various guides to self-editing, receiving invaluable feedback from the Berkeley Writer’s Group, and drinking a lot of wine (when someone tells me that a passage is lucid and flowing, I silently thank the Grape Goddess).
But reading my own work and trying to fit it in to the rules: plot-driven, show-don’t-tell, no repeating words, no adverbs etc. etc… I can’t help wondering what were the rules for Salinger, Tolkien, Dickens, or Hardy?
Let’s face it. These guys have made it. They are the immortals, the literary gods, forever a part of history. We admire and envy them.
Most authors want to write bestsellers and make lots of money (okay, at least I’m being honest) and we all want our books to be read after our deaths and in centuries to come, enabling us to join the immortals. The question thus stands: do we write for today or forever? Do we sacrifice quality (if indeed that’s what it is) to become a hit today?
Kill your babies! Another golden rule of self-editing. But I love my babies. I see their worth, a rich tapestry woven of detail, a clear memory engraved forever. What fantasy reader doesn’t have a clear succinct picture of Middle Earth engraved in his/her mind? That comes from reading (and sometimes toiling) through pages of rich description. Some die-hard fantasy followers have even written Elven as a second language on their resumes .
Still, I am no Tolkien, but every time I press on the delete button, I feel I have left behind a friend, a painful step forward of a yet unfulfilled journey.