Thursday, October 24, 2013

Editing for "Cheesiness"

 “But there is in everything a reasonable division of labour. I have written the book, and nothing on earth would induce me to read it.” ~ G. K. Chesterton

Sometimes the only thing that makes me edit my own writing is the fact that I don't want anyone else to see it the way it is. If it wasn't so embarrassing, I'd gladly hand it off to someone else and never read over it again.

Other times I think something is good, even enjoy reading over it, find it funny or appreciate my own characters from a year ago, or whenever it was, but the idea of anyone else reading it makes me cringe.
I think it's because they might think it's bad, childish, or worse, cheesy. I think that's probably my deepest fear in writing, to write something so unoriginal, so shallow, so stupid, that it merits the adjective "cheesy." Ugh. 
(Slang may not be good English but it can communicate attitude better than anything short of a facial expression. Some of it is so expressive that you can see the facial expression it is to be said with when the word is written. Words like glitzy, heave, klutz.) 

Tonight I was reading through some of the stories I wrote when I was younger. I wrote the beginning of a story called "How Blue The Sky" in 2009. It's about two kids, Donny and Cupid McConnor, who escape from an orphanage in New York, take a train out west, and end up hiking into an abandoned resort by a lake in Idaho, where they meet another orphan, Rosette, who teaches them how to live off the land. Cupid, my main character, is eleven years old. These days I don't write from the viewpoint of eleven-year-olds anymore. I've been guilty of growing up, I guess, and forgetting that eleven-year-olds aren't that different than me.

I revised "How Blue The Sky" a year later when I read it and was embarrassed by it. I don't remember all my motives for editing it so ruthlessly. I must have thought the beginning was too long winded, because I cut most of it. I must have thought something was wrong with Donny and Cupid's personalities, because I cut most of my character development scenes and replaced them with brief "telling" summaries. I must have decided that it was inappropriate for three children to be alone in the woods together, because I gave Rosette two younger siblings and made her brother the one who first meets Donny and Cupid. I must have decided that Donny and Cupid were stupid names, because I replaced Donovan with Daniel and Cupid with Colette. I must not have liked my plan for the future, because I dragged three more children in by force, literally kicking and screaming.

I killed it. 

When I was done "cleaning up," I was no longer interested in "How Blue The Sky." And looking at it now, I can see why. The edited version is sterile, the characters are cardboard cutouts, the plot feels stilted, rushed, and forced. I quit writing it and moved on to something else. I locked it in an archives folder and didn't read it again for three years.

I was 14 in 2009. I was having fun and writing what I wanted to read. I was 15 in 2010, awkwardly transitioning into a teenager, trying to figure out who I was and what I was doing and being frightened by the directions my own creativity was taking me. 

I was wondering what other people might think and deciding that what I had written was cheesy.
Maybe sometimes it is. Sometimes it really does need to be ruthlessly edited. But maybe sometimes the reason I don't want other people to read it is not that I think it is cheesy. Maybe it's because I think it's good. And maybe I need to let it stay that way.

And then swallow my pride and my fears and let other people read it.