NP asks, "So how do you know when you can let go of a piece and start working on something else?" For me, it is a three-part process:
1. Picking the bloody thing up for yet another revision makes me physically ill.That said, nothing ever feels finished. And I know that when I finally see my crap in print, I'll be mortified. So it goes.
2. Ooo, shiny object! Otherwise known as getting distracted by another project.
3. My poor Wise Readers repeat for the 9,842nd time, "There's nothing wrong with it, Dana. Really. There's not." They are Wise, and so I feel compelled to believe them - at least, after I've asked them "Are you sure?" for the 9,841st time.
And that's all I have to say about that. Until the inevitable revision, o' course.
Tangential to endings, I suppose that's one of the reasons I like political blogging - there's no revision. It's hard-and-fast current events sort o' stuff with no chance for 9,841st thoughts and fretful tinkering. You post the post and move on to the next. I wouldn't be able to write fiction like that, but it's a relief to scribble things that don't require endless fuss and bother, which people end up liking just fine despite the lack of polish.
There's also no reason to spend five hours deciding upon a suitably elegant transition. And I shall engage in that behavior now by leaping from the previous topic to the next without ceremony. Chris Rhetts has it right when he says you need to leave elbow room for the imagination. That's especially true for writers of wonder and horror. Our imaginations may be good, but our readers' are often better. Take full advantage of that, we must.
What he says touches on "show, don't tell" as well as "engage the reader." Look at it this way: do you get more emotional when someone gives you a list of reasons why you should feel, oh, say, grief, or when you see someone collapse to the floor screaming with loss? Yup. And while it's harder to show than tell, in most cases the extra effort's worth it, especially for the important bits.
Young writers I dealt with in college (and in writer's forums later) always seemed agonized by the idea that if they showed rather than told, the reader may not react properly. I, too, used to keep myself awake nights worrying about this. In me wise old age (ha), I've come to say, "So what?" So what if they don't "get it"? Not everyone will, even when you tell them with awful precision just what their reaction should be. I play the percentage game now. If, oh, say, 75% of the audience "gets it," I am content. And while it's satisfying when your readers "get it," it's even more satisfying when they come to the conclusion you wanted by following breadcrumbs the birds have been at rather than a four-lane interstate highway posted with signs every ten feet.
Apropos of nothing, allow me to share the following: I've just had one of those "I am a writer" moments. I've been doubtful, lately. I've spent the last week quivering in terror, because I haven't felt the call. Haven't wanted to read fiction, nor write fiction, nor sacrifice the pathetic remnants of my social life because between blogging, full-time work, and inconvenient necessities like eating, sleeping, and re-excavating a safe path through the house, there's precious little else that can be trimmed in order to make room for fiction writing. I shall not bore you with the details, but I'm sure you've all been there and can fill in the blanks. You've stared down the barrel of the question, "Am I really a writer?"
Years ago, my best friend in North Carolina answered this question by swearing off writing for life, then going to the grocery store. As he passed the stationery aisle, he swerved down it with this thought: "Oh, hey, I wonder if they've got my favorite pens? D'OH!"
I've just answered it by feeling an old, familiar thrill of excitement simply reading two excellent blog posts on writing.
Buh-bye, social life. Hello, fiction! Well, as soon as summer's officially over, anyway...
If you've stories to tell on the theme of "I knew I was a writer when..." and the comments section is still on strike, feel free to email them to email@example.com, and I shall be pleased to post them for ye.