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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Letting it Go, featuring "Wrecking Ball"

Let's warp speed forward for this post. We're going to move past the writing, the editing, the querying, all of it. Today we're going to address how to let your novel go.

Once your novel is out there in the world, once you've released it to see how far it can fly, it's also time to relinquish your control over it. It exists now, it is its own self-contained being, and you no longer control it.

"Whoa," says you, "what are you talking about? I gave it life, I can take it away!"

Okay, so maybe I inflated your ego a bit with that whole, "Writers are Gods!" post a while back. My bad. Because actually: you're not.

Now we get to the good and controversial part. I'm about to be a bit of poo-stirrer*, so prepare yourselves. Once you write your novel, once it is completed and out there in the world, it doesn't matter one bit, one tinkling, one iota what you intended when you wrote it. All that matters now is what the reader perceives from the novel itself. To quote Wimsatt and Beardsley in an entirely inappropriately structured citation (sorry, MLA), "the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art."

That's right. I think author intentionality is a giant crock of hooey.

I know there are some (many? most?) who are going to disagree with me. But this is my school of literary criticism. I don't care what an author intends or means. I believe that a work should speak for itself. I'm not into that whole 1950s "self-contained work" thing per se (--"What are you talking about?? You just quoted New Criticism school critics and claimed it was your school!" Well, in the words of my mother, "Do what I mean, not what I say."--) because I think that takes it too far. But as far as I'm concerned, judging a work based on what the author intended is ludicrous, and summarily unhelpful. Biographical factoids about authors can be interesting. Author intentionality can be interesting if you're studying the author. But if you're studying the literary work, then knowing whether or not Shakespeare was gay (which, btw, is a somewhat anachronistic approach to the question of his sexuality, but for now that's neither here nor there) is nothing more than trivia fodder. Quite frankly, whilst Emilia is revealing the handkerchief and the dramatic irony comes crashing down on all the players, I couldn't care less about Shakespeare and how he ate his breakfast, what he thought of the Queen, why he left Annie back in Stratford, etc. (That play, btw? Othello. Great stuff).

So how do you prepare yourself from being in control, to being completely and utterly powerless over your novel?

My Guide to Letting Go

  1. Perfect your story to the best of you ability before releasing it.
    The best defense is a good offense, right? So get your novel as point perfect as you can before you put it out there. During the editing phase, you still have control. Let others read it and take any of the interpretation or feedback that you don't like and fix it. You still have power, you can wield it. Be receptive to what you're hearing, because it's insight into what your readers are going to think. You don't want to be Miley Cyrus on her gosh-darned Wrecking Ball. (Tangent: I think Wrecking Ball could have benefited from a nice editing session before it was ever sung. That song is a mess. She's a wrecking ball? Or is he? And wrecking balls are used to knock down unwanted or dilapidated structures -- is she implying that she and/or he is/are already crappy? And what's that whole part about war .... a wrecking ball is not an instrument of war. Why is she bringing a wrecking ball into a war zone? God that song is just written so, so poorly).
  2. Practice the art of saying nothing.
    I have a lot of respect for the recluse author. No, I'm not one. I never will be, I'm not a reclusive person by nature. But take a leaf out of the recluse's book: practice saying nothing. People may think they want to hear an author explain their work -- but trust me, they don't. It will only put you on the spot and lead to disappointment when the author didn't intend what the reader wanted to get out of the work. This particular philosophy of mine was challenged a lot during my senior comps project. I did a creative writing piece (a play in verse, it was very college) and my professors actually wanted me to explain my work. Luckily, the comps project is entirely pass/fail and I talked around everything enough to pass. Because I don't explain. Your explanation will always be shallow in comparison to your work. Don't debase it that way.
  3. Don't start a war by trying to let them in.
    Get it?? Like the song?? But yeah. Don't do this. Arguing with your readers about why what they're interpreting from your work is wrong is not productive. I know it's tempting. I know you're just defending your work and trying to clue people in on what you really mean. But don't do it. Do not engage. Arguing with your readership just to tell them they're wrong is a bad idea, mmkay?
Always a bad choice.

*I've been told I should consider cleaning up my language. Enjoy my new potty mouth, brought to you by 11-year-old me.

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