************************* & *************************
Today I’m going to play the role of critic. I play this every day, alone in my little studio at the Hobbit House, slashing whatever I’ve recently written to shreds in the name of doing better. At one point, I decided to have a little conference with my inner critic and lay down some laws in order to limit the bashing and stick to facilitative editing. Critics who criticize as professional assessors and assign value to the works of creative people, seem to have great power. They can make or break a career with just the pounding of the keyboard. It’s okay to say whether one likes or dislikes something. The loathsome part is using one’s platform to persuade the general public into agreeing with an assessment, which generally has little basis in fact. Some critics are out of touch with what appeals to the general public (remember the unfortunate reviews of Elvis and the Beatles) and rate solely on their own tastes. Don’t we just love it when some snooty critic, who has the power to kill an artistic spirit, gets it all wrong? My own internal critic, which hounded me into submission, insisted on telling me my writing was a worthless endeavor, which kept me from sharing what I wrote with anyone else for a very long time. When I decided to change the internal, judgmental dialog and stop worrying about what the external nitpickers might have to say, I was able to embrace my unique and quirky creations simply for the value of making them. But still, I strive to please myself and that involves a reasonable amount of editing.
Instead of the old naysayer, my current inner editor is merely a hairsplitting pedant I have to face when I sit down to pound out a sentence. The most frequent rebuke is: No one will understand this. It’s too vague. You are relying on people having preconceived notions about X. Erase this!! Start over!! This is the moment when I shut down the computer and go for a long walk. Bad punctuation I can take. The common comma is my nemesis. I have no idea how to use a semicolon. I can even tolerate having to rearrange sentences for better flow or realizing I have used the wrong word (think incidence vs incidents), but the possibility that someone won’t “get” what I am attempting to convey is too much for me to deal with in the moment, especially if I am overly pleased with the cleverness of the wording. It’s just so hard to give that up for the sake of clarity!
When I first started the blog, I enlisted the aid of my fellow writers to act as editors. Editors are different from critics in that they attempt to point out the multitude of mistakes for correcting before anyone else ever sees the work. Their scrutiny took some weight off the responsibility of my own deliberations. Of course, my friends pointed out anything smacking of vagueness, redundancy or contradiction along with the usual comments on syntax, punctuation and spelling spotted by proofreaders everywhere. The hardest thing for my volunteer editors to deal with was my style of writing. I often make what looks like a mistake, but is cleverly, humorously or mockingly done on purpose. Childishly, I imagine throwing a raspberry at my 8th grade English teacher in a so there! moment. Hah! I can say it my way after all! I have my own blog!
Since I’ve always been the final editor, I was able to choose what went and what stayed. There was a bit of whimpering and wavering on my part when a recruited editor pointed out any instances of “not getting it.” I knew in that moment of discovery, that if this editor was confused by something I’d written, then readers everywhere would have that same experience. I could not talk my self out of that certainty. And, if I didn’t fix it, my friend/editor would most likely notice and be disappointed. Though it was difficult to rewrite some of my most glorious passages of literature, it was easier to make myself do it at the behest of a fellow writer than at the constant bludgeoning of my inner critic.
Now coming close to the end of Ethel’s fourth year, I can look back and see the evolution of this blog. I started out by leasing shared office space downtown. Leaving home every morning at the start of 2019, I hopped on the bus, then, once dropped at the bus station downtown, walked to the building where I occupied a desk. This ritual gave shape and legitimacy to my workday. Other people were there (doing paid work) with whom I could chat in the break room. I brought my lunch to heat up at noon and enjoyed the outdoor patio on a nice day. There were no barking dogs or household distractions to tear my attention away from the task of writing. I was able to pound out ten starter stories for editing, which was the number recommended by the blog-writing articles I had read in my diligent research efforts.
I kept that ritual up for 14 months and 12 days, staying ahead of the game with my small inventory of essays and four-day work week. In 2020…well, we all know how March of 2020 went. My rent was paid until the end of April, but I never went back to the office. I began to write from the comfort of my dining room table. Given that I spent zero time traveling to and from my workspace, it mystified me as to why I could not get as much writing done at home as I had accomplished in that nice office I was forced to abandon. My stockpile of writings began to steadily dwindle until I found myself writing each piece the week before it was to be published. I scrambled to get a story to its editor by the weekend before the deadline. This debacle evolved into writing the story on a Monday for a Tuesday posting. This was the point at which I finally had to give up the kind help of my editor friends and go it alone.
I’m sure my writing has deteriorated without the scrutiny of an extra pair of eyes on the pages. But, the stress has also decreased as I have no deadline which involves external sources of labor. They were the best, those editors. The kindest and most earnest assistants one could hope for. I miss their input as it surely lent some finesse to my mad scribblings. I’ve spent the past year writing the blog while grieving the loss of honest opinions about how I could make it better and sometimes even make sense. But now, I’ve settled into a routine which serves my writing with the least amount of stress and the most flexible of timelines–if not the best possible arrangement of words on the page.
I finally moved my writing work into the guest room. I removed the bed and replaced it with a futon, on which I can recline in despair if necessary. I can also shut the door. Since I am a dedicated creature of habit, I sit down to write for two to three hours a day. I can sit at my desk, stare out into my neighbors’ yard and concentrate on…how the wind has picked up, why the dog is barking, the car needs washing, was that the dryer?. The distractions are endless…and glorious. As I write, there’s a gigantic crow perched on the fence above my dormant garden bed. When should we plant the garden this year and how will we keep these monster birds from eating our harvest? Wow, the sky is so blue against the mountain, like some painting by a famous artist. Where was I? Oh yeah, blog.
So I tear my attention away from the view and settle my eyes on the computer screen. I glance at the time and notice it’s not too early for lunch. If I’m not enthusiastically writing, lost to that inner dialogue, then I might as well eat lunch and take a walk. Once I’ve turned off my computer, the formal process of writing is over for the day, but not the constant scribbling that goes on in my head, which often increases with physical activity. Afternoons are for doing chores, running errands, hiking, weight training and napping. When I let go of the formalities of creating, creativity flows. Then I have to remember to hastily write myself some notes because, God knows, I won’t remember it by the time I sit down at my desk next day to punch it out in real words.
So, here I am, at my bare-bones Ikea table cranking up my crotchety laptop, eager to get started on my fifth year of verbal manufacturing. There’s a problem with the email service through the website, but I don’t want to think about how to go about fixing it. Should I spring for more spam protection so that I don’t have to go through all those unwanted comments? My inner editor is clamoring for something to edit. It’s going to get cold tonight. Oh look! My dog is digging a hole in the yard.
Somehow or another, it gets done,