Lopsided Cherry aka Revision is Hell

It occurred to me the other day that I’m no longer fun. I’ve become incredibly focused, and intense; a little unhappy figure dressed in black, huddled over her laptop, projecting urgency and despair; sucking in anxiety through her cheekbones like a chain smoking existentialist. Exhaling  le monde est totalement merde.

It could be said that I have never been fun – have never even come close; choosing to pretend that once upon a time I was carefree. The kind of girl known to bounce, hair flying, at a moment’s notice, hopping into convertibles for a malt or a sundae at any opportunity, all the while projecting radiance and an aura of indefatigable excitement – instead of the type of person who comes out (and then only resignedly) once confirmed via a tentatively pencilled date in the calendar.

Writing a collection of short fiction is not the whimsical trip I imagined. It has turned out to be brutal and gut wrenching: a nerve wrecking, cuticle-chewing year of thrills.

Perhaps a book isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe it is more like childbirth, with the fear and anxiety making everything hurt twice as much. The suffering only forgotten when the rosy-faced finished product is finally evidenced.

I can tell you that the revision process is hell. Particularly the stage where I sit in front of my stories with a blunt pencil, questioning every turn of phrase and deconstructing each line of my story, until I am a neurotic mess, trying not to sweat or bleed over my keyboard, praying I don’t short circuit myself; part of me hoping I do get sizzled, so at least someone else can edit my work and publish me post mortum.

And the crazy part? The doubt never ceases. It starts like a tiny crack in the perfect alabaster of a story: a blemish, a dot, a misguided word or an earnest remark. I take my eraser and neatly rub it out. There, I say, removing the offending word or line. But all is not right, as Ms. Clavel says.

The satisfaction I had at finishing a story soon turns into a frown. If I made one mistake, surely there are more. The frown is now a permanent crease sitting in the middle of my forehead. I forget the careful eraser and I’m slashing and burning away with abandon. Phrases, lines, even entire paragraphs get hacked. I’m unstoppable, like some demented crop-infested farmer. I grow giddy hunting out inconsistencies.

I’ve turned into a zealot. Ha, I say to myself. So trite, so cliched, such average writing! Who will want to read this flawed prose? Who will believe my stories?

And I don’t stop at my writing. No. I wring my hands and second-guess the sagacity of ALL my choices starting from the time I wrote that story in the second grade, the one Mrs. Miller loved. Yes, I blame YOU, Mrs. Miller for encouraging me. Most of all, I blame my seven-year-old self for thinking I could write. It is her fault I am in this situation.

The afternoon is beautiful. I should be outside, but I’m here with my fingertips bruised, my insides seething. The dog gives me pitiful looks from his corner, but I ignore him because I’m too busying revising.

I can no longer stand my characters, even the decent ones. I hate their whininess, their needy ways, their desire and their inarticulateness. I hate my clueless friends who don’t understand. I hate my published friends, who understand all too well. I hate myself for being silly and tedious. Mostly, I hate the fallacy of having chosen a pastime that forces me to question myself constantly.

I make empty promises to the dog: Let me change one more thing. Don’t look at me like that. I’ll take you out when I’m finished.

At 10:00, the poor dog has given up and taken his self-pity to the living room, while I sit alone in my office, feeling depressed because I haven’t written anything new in months. How could I? I spend all day knee-deep in destruction.

At some point I have travelled so far from my original point, that all the time spent polishing and perfecting, now seems pointless. I sit on top of all that mess: a lopsided, trying too hard to be genuine, suspicious tasting cherry.  And everyone knows, Twin Peaks stems and fancy sundaes apart, that artificial cherries are never as good as the real thing. For one, you can’t fall in love with an artificial cherry.

4 Comments

  1. Gemwolf

    I don’t know anything about editing. Not at all. Frustration. Ha. We’re like tyre and tube. (Awful saying, that.)I can imagine Mr Picasso standing in front of a canvas. It shows something that may or may not be a woman. There’s an eye, a nose, a mouth, and some other parts needed to make a face. But it rather looks like Mr Picasso had a girl for lunch, got food poisoning from eating her, and emptied his stomach on a canvas.Did Mr Picasso intend for her to look like that? Or was it at one stage a better piece than the Mona Lisa (not that the Mona Lisa is any good IMO)? Did he keep on making small corrections – “editing” the painting – and at some stage lost track of what the original was all about? A masterpiece destroyed by his own fidgeting? Or is the painting exactly how he intended it to be? Every line was made with the utmost certainty. No hesitance in any of the strokes? And when he was finished with it, did he stand back and say, “this is what I made, and each and everyone of you WILL admire MY vision”?The answer may be in Mr Picasso’s happiness? Did he accept himself? Did he accept the fact that he had this obscure vision of the world around him? Or did he saw the world this way because he wanted to please someone else?Well. Either way. I imagine the whole situation, and I can’t help but see a female Mr Monk.

  2. As a distraction, I read a great anecdote about Picasso last week: some guy asked him how it felt to be SO incredibly famous and Picasso said, “Hand me a dollar bill.” The guy handed him one, he slapped it on his canvas, painted over it and handed it back to him. “Here, now its worth $500. That’s how it feels to be this famous.”So the man may have struggled like other artists but he had One Big Ego. Maybe you need to find your inner ego, Niki. You must have it. Somewhere inside you know you can write.

  3. I actually would suggest that you have an external editor but given that you’ve gone through the pain (and what good prose this post is, in describing the process!), I can only say bravo, and you have no choice now but to carry on until the end.On the first paragraph you wrote, that has recently been apt for me as well, to the point where someone has demanded, and ordered, that I relax! But I think you and I both know that if it’s not time to ease up, then we’ll continue with the frowning, the tensed shoulders, and the red eyes.

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