Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Confessions of a Basher (trying real hard to be Swooper)

The most recent installment of the weekly IFC Podcast has reminded me of one of the observations contained in Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.'s Timequake, concerning two different styles of writers:

"Tellers of stories with ink on paper, not that they matter any more, have been either swoopers or bashers. Swoopers write a story quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Then they go over it again painstakingly, fixing everything that is just plain awful or doesn't work. Bashers go one sentence at a time, getting it exactly right before they go on to the next one. When they're done they're done."

As someone who is usually a Basher, I appreciate the evocative terminology that Mr. Vonnegut came up with. Writing, for me, has usually felt like repeatedly bashing my head against the keyboard to make the words come out. I enjoy writing immensely, but it has always been a labor of love with no shortage of painful, grueling labor. I have always felt a deep jealousy for the abilities of the Swoopers.

This has crippled me as a writer. It comes from a reprehensible perfectionism on my part. When I begin a writing project, be it fiction or non, I typically feel unprepared to write a single word before the finished product is entirely mapped out in my mind. I must have every plot point/argument laid out perfectly, every snippet of dialogue rehearsed before I touch my fingers to keyboard or pen. This involves a lot of pacing back and forth, and when I've paced all that I can in my home, a walk or two. 

Finally, a feeling of relief floods through me as I reach the conclusion that, "Yes, I have this thing all figured out. Now the hard part's done. All I have to do now is write the darn thing."

In truth, the fun part is done and the painful part has begun. As soon as I type the beginning of my mental masterpiece, I see what absolute crap it is, beginning with sentence one. I painstakingly edit, sentence by sentence as I write, proceeding at a snail's pace. I usually am utterly faithful to my mental outline as far as plot points/arguments etc., but the language that sounded so good my in head reeks of drivel when I see it spelled out, and so I Bash away. But, staying true to Vonnegut's archetype I usually hardly revise much aside from giving it a quick once-over for typos, especially looking for errors the dyslexic variety that the spellcheckers miss (I am constantly writing form instead of from, for example).

Vonnegut was a Basher, reportedly writing one page at a time, refusing to go on to the next page until each was perfect, often revising a page many times. After finishing a page, he would place it in a drawer and not return to it; when he reached the last page the novel was ready to be sent to the publisher. Vonnegut being perhaps my favorite author, I was quite pleased to learn that this was his style of writing and this information served me well as a justification for my own idiosyncratic habits.

However, I am not Vonnegut. He produced many fine novels and stories using his methods. I have yet to produce anything, despite dozens of ideas and false starts over the years, a few of which I feel may have even ended up being decent had I seen the project through. My writing style has not been conducive to me actually writing anything, and I want to break this trend.

Enter this blog. Everything I've written so far has been typed as fast as possible`, having not really thought out what I will write in any detail, moving quickly, higgledy-piggledy, crinkum-crankum, any which way. Admittedly, I then, rather than carefully revising as a true Swooper would, usually immediately hit the "Publish Post" without so much as a read-through. This mostly has to do with the fact that, having a three month old daughter, I have precious little free time these days and I only allot myself so much time to waste on this thing. But if I were writing something more serious and close to my heart than a frivolous blog, I would revise carefully.

The point is, I'm trying real hard to develop some habits of Swoopers. When it come to non-blog writing, I will probably always be a Basher to a degree, but I am trying to use this blog as an exercise in generating words quickly. If I desire to write, which I do, than I need to write and not just think about writing. This means perhaps beginning to write without as clear a mental picture to begin with as I would prefer, and not laboring over each sentence to the point that I never finish anything (my hard drive is filled with the openings pages of aborted writing projects). I need to be less of a Basher. I have much to learn from the Swoopers of the word.

And so, patient reader, forgive me when these blog posts lack a certain polish or perfection. I am viewing them as an ongoing exercise in Swooperism, and little more.

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