Consciousness dislikes chaos. Like cats pacing the borders of the yard, we tend to treat familiar things as safe and reliable. It gives us a sense of security. Given that familiarity makes a lot of arbitrary assumptions about reality, however, I personally think it’s an illusion, a convenient facade that makes it easier to deal with things. That’s natural enough, but when it comes to writing, one wants to be careful.
I recently finished a novel. It’s entitled Outpost, interestingly, a term that implies an unfamiliar place in some context or another. I finished it, revised it, edited, polished, washed and repeated until every word was as familiar as the lines on my hand. I’m weary of looking at the thing, truth be told. I put it in the capable hands of my editor.
Now things get interesting (note the mild sarcasm). Being familiar with one’s words is insidiously comforting. The process of writing, both mystical and miserable at the same time, has a way of making one’s work beautiful. Oh yes, the Universe is singing its brilliance because after all, suffering is noble. This is perilous, like being dusted with fairy glitter. You might think you’re looking at a nice green field with flowers and butterflies but those flowers have thorns, there’s a cat lurking in the shadows, the butterfly is headed for a spider’s web and the lambs are fleeing from an impending earthquake. Chaos is everywhere. This is what a good editor will see, because she isn’t strung out on fairy glamor or glossing over the goblins with a palette knife heaped with love and imagination.
A useful exercise is to put the book aside for a time, let the fairy dust wear off and go back to it with a more objective perspective. This only works if you’re able to face reality without the high. If something nags you or doesn’t look right, don’t brush it off for fear of chaos by deciding it’s fine. It probably isn’t. It takes strength and courage to see through familiarity and let the work evolve.
These days, everyone is a writer. So I see a lot of things on the internet about How to Know If You’re A Real Writer. That’s a big topic fraught with nail biting. But I figure one of the criteria is knowing what it’s like to wake up from the fairy glamor with a nasty headache, a broken heart and some healthy skepticism.
In other words, chaos is a writer’s friend.
Outpost, Book One in The Fylking.
A race of immortal warriors who live by the sword.
A gate between the worlds.
Warriors, royals, seers and warlocks living in uneasy peace on one side of the Veil.
© F.T. McKinstry 2015. All Rights Reserved.
2 thoughts on “Writing and the Fairy Dust of Familiarity”
Can relate on so many levels. I actually just posted about my experiences losing the first novel I ever finished. I thought about going back and working from a two-year-old version (that’s missing a ton of recent edits), but lately I’ve been considering starting from scratch. I wrote the story when I was so young, and it has changed so much that the idea of working a new story into old text makes me feel anxious. Definitely feeling the chaos. Thanks for the great read!
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Ouch! I feel your pain. You might remember more of it than you think, once you get into it. You’ll also have a lot of new ideas and yeah, while you’ll be shadowed by knowing it isn’t what you had, there’s a good chance it’ll turn out better. I also know what you mean about working with an old manuscript. I’ve tried that a few times and ended up ditching most of it, because over time I changed, my writing changed, and it didn’t feel right. But it might be a comforting place to start. 🙂 Good luck!
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