Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Anxiety of Self-Influence


Long ago, in a galaxy far away, William Gibson told Eileen Gunn that he had discovered the secret of writing:  “You must learn to overcome your very natural, and appropriate, revulsion for your own work.”

This is an extremely useful observation.  But it will only take you so far.  I'm working on the third and final novel of what will inevitably be seen as the Iron Dragon Trilogy and so I did a fast skim of the first two novels.

I didn't have to do this when I was writing The Dragons of Babel because it was not intended to be a sequel to The Iron Dragon's Daughter.  I didn't even decide that the two books were set in the same world until it was halfway written.  (In retrospect, this seems naive.  But it's true.)

So it was a new experience for me, comparing my half-formed notions of what I wanted to write to the finished products of my own imagination and a whole hell of a lot of work.

The result?  I was intimidated.  There were passages that were as good as I could make them.  Rereading them, it seemed like I couldn't hope to do as well.

This sounds like a fancy, a notion, but it's not.  I know at least one writer who gave up on fiction because he believed -- incorrectly, I'm convinced -- that he couldn't write as well as himself anymore.  He read his previous books and was too intimidated to go on.

The lesson to be learned from this was explained to me a third of a century ago by my pal Jack Dann.  "You have to learn to turn off your inner critic while you're writing," he said.

True words.  A story or novel is literally unpublishable until you finish writing it.  For one thing, it has no ending.  You must simply write as well and as honestly as you are capable of.  When it's done, you can turn on the critic and judge whether it's ready for the big time.  But while you're writing, just write.

End of sermon.  Go in peace.

Above:  Detail from the British cover by Geoff Taylor.  One of my favorite covers ever.


1 comment:

Daniel Hatch said...

I have never willfully attempted to write as well as the stories with my name on them. I do not know who really wrote those stories, as I do not recall ever being that good. I just write the next one the same way I wrote the last one, one word at a time, as fast as they flow out of my fingertips.