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Monday, June 21, 2010

The Cialis Warning for Writers: Don't make it harder than it has to be.

This is going to be one of my apt but slightly off color publishing allegories, so for those who are put off by such things, please, step away from the blog.

Whenever I see those Cialis commercials in which they warn "If you experience an erection lasting longer than four hours, call your doctor," I'm compelled to tell Gary, "Hey, baby, if that ever happens to you, forget the doctor--call me!" But formulaic humor aside, in practical reality, too much of a good thing is just as bad, if not worse, than not enough. Priapism (won't-go-away erection) is a harmful, painful medical emergency that can lead to ischemia and even gangrene in extreme cases. Yeah. Seriously not good.

Dragging out the manuscript process to ridiculous lengths is similarly unhealthy and ultimately unsatisfying. Meticulous is great until it becomes masochistic. Rewriting is good craftsmanship until it becomes obsessive rehashing. Artistic integrity is laudable until it becomes a smokescreen for an author's fear of the marketplace.

"Write with an erection," Tom Robbins famously said. "Even if you're a woman." He was talking about giving ourselves to the madly infatuated glory of process, and he's absolutely right, but prolonging process at the expense of fulfillment can damage and even kill a book. A satisfying publishing experience becomes less and less likely after grinding months or even years of psyching yourself out about it.

This month, I find myself involved in a delicious little work for hire project with a big fun factor and absolutely no literary heft. The deadline is insanely short. I've set a 4,000 words/day schedule to allow a few days at the front for research and a week at the end for rewrites. Last week, as we forged the contract with the publisher, I was pondering all sorts of parlor tricks and storytelling shenanigans that would elevate this project beyond the musical little trifle I'm being commissioned to write, and my agent sternly told me, "Don't make it harder than it has to be."

The creative exercise for me here is to reign in my tendency to write for my own enjoyment at the expense of the reader's--a brand of discipline my fiction has always lacked. Writing novels, I go where I want to go at the pace I like to travel with all sorts of tangents and bantering and envelope-pushing. I get luxuriously lost in the process I love. There's certainly nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you'd like to make a living writing, in which case, everyone this side of Infinite Jest has to give at least a modicum of consideration to the peanut gallery. The writer who fails to consider the reader is as tragically deluded as a man who thinks the quality of lovemaking begins and ends with his erection.

In this case, a fast, funny, straightforward, technically well executed story is what the publisher wants to publish and what the target readers want to read. It's the book equivalent of a quickie. There's fun there. And satisfaction. But it is what it is. Get in, get off, get out. Save the tantric gymnastics for the right partner and be honest with yourself about how long you really need it to last.

10 comments:

Mylène said...

What a great way to start my day--laughing and recognizing! IT IS WHAT IT IS. WHATEVER IT IS. Don't force a square (oh my goodness) into a round (oh my . . .)

Sounds like we need to give you some space over the next four weeks, Joni. And yet you still found time up post this. Thanks.

Colleen Thompson said...

ROFL, Joni! This is not only hilarious, it's absolutely true.

Best of luck with this wild-n'-crazy deadline. We'll see you on the other side!

KylieBrant said...

Love the allegory, Joni! And curiously apt when it comes to the writing process.

Faye Hughes said...

Joni,

Oh, Colleen is so right - this is hysterical and, yep, oh so true.

Best of luck with your crazy deadline.

Faye

Jo Anne said...

Thanks, Joni. I so needed to hear this right now. And you've given me great imaginary visuals to use as a lesson anchor.

You'll make your deadline because you're a professional (just the word you wanted next to your Cialis warning, right?) :-)

Keena Kincaid said...

A fabulous post and a great point that I may tape to my computer.

Now, can you explain what the duel bathtub imagery is about in those commercials?

Colleen Thompson said...

We'll be glad to explain that, Keena, if you'll help us understand why those Shake Weight commercials haven't been banned yet by censors. ;)

Kathryn Paterson said...

Thanks. My dearest hope is that now that I'm finally learning how to write a novel, the next one won't take as long. It's sort of an answer to my post about the "send us your best work," which is good advice to the newbie, but I'm not always sure the best advice for the more experienced writer.

Kathryn Paterson said...

That said, I don't know that I could EVER do what you're doing, Joni. 4000 words in a day? And where on earth does revision come in?

Kathryn Paterson said...

And yeah, what the heck IS up with the duel bathtub imagery? Too funny, Keena!