laistrygonians and cyclops, wild poseidon: on difficult revisions
Thus far, INTERN has been rather shy about discussing her own novel-to-be on this blog, in part because she is wary of writing too much about herself, and in part because until recently, she would often wake up in a panic that she Won't Be Able to Pull It Off (the novel) and should therefore refrain from mentioning it until it's safely done.
INTERN's has not been one of those manuscripts that slips and slides, barely tinkered with, from writing desk to agency to publisher to bookstore. On the contrary, the number and scope of changes (and change-backs. and changes-again) has been dizzying. Although INTERN is increasingly stoked with the way things are coming together, she has felt, at other points in the revision process, like a wretched third grader held back after class to struggle with a math problem she just can't solve, long after everyone else has finished and gone out to play.
Panic. Despair. Self-laceration. Improbable solution after improbable solution, none of them surviving the delete button for more than a day. Googling, for chrissakes. Googling.
What finally turned it around for INTERN was some good advice from her editor (of which more in a future post), and an ultimatum from Techie Boyfriend: you are creating a Work of Art, not engineering a septic system. Act like it.
In short, it has been an Interesting Process, by which INTERN means an embarrassingly emo process, and while INTERN is happy to report that the panic and despair are safely behind her, going through them was an experience she will never forget.
Then late last night, while unwinding after an (exhilarating and productive!) revision session, INTERN came across this poem that seems to explain EVERYTHING. In his poem Ithaka, the poet C. P. Cavafy writes of the creative process:
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,Perhaps it was the 4 AM, post-revision high, but this poem seemed to reframe everything about the revision process in such satisfyingly mythical, Hero's Journey, psychoanalytic terms that INTERN read it ten times, in total wonder.
wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.
Of course! The Cyclops of the dozen placeholder endings (= unwillingness to confront the fear of death!), the Laistrygonians (whatever the heck those are) of the bungled character arcs (= the writer's inability to understand where her own journey is taking her!) etc. etc. etc. Every problem in revision was really a Struggle With the Self! How meaningful and even necessary all that wretchedness can seem in hindsight, with the help of a dead poet!
This whole adventure—for it has been an adventure—has lead INTERN to wonder: is there inherent value to suffering over the course of a creative endeavor? How much of it is meaningful and growth-inducing, and how much of it is avoidable and unnecessary? Is a difficult manuscript a kind of hero's journey, or is that just a story you can tell yourself as a consolation prize for things not having been more of a breeze?
INTERN would also like to know: are panic and despair something you grow out of as you become a more experienced novel-writer? Or are they more of a constitutional thing? To what extent does one doom oneself (by having the wrong outlook, or not enough confidence, or whatever) and to what extent is a particular manuscript doom-causing?
Wishing you all good luck with your Cyclops.