Archive for the ‘Creative Non-Fiction’ Category

Just as the hills of Austria will ever be alive with the sound of music, the web will ever echo with George Lucas causing more fan protests.

The latest hyperventilating arises from dozens of tweaks Lucas has made to all six of his Star Wars films, in preparation for their Blu-Ray release on September 16. Several sites chronicle all the changes.

In short, they’re ridiculous. In a scene where R2-D2 hides, Lucas has added a couple of digital rocks. In a scene with a Jawa, Lucas has made him blink. In another scene, he has added an unappealing merchant character to the crowd of extras in the background. In a climactic scene from Return of the Jedi, he has overdubbed Darth Vader yelling, “Nooooo!” And so on.

George knows what you're thinking: "Needs more rocks!"

By the standards of Lucas’ most rabid fans, these changes do not enhance the movies, but rather make them worse. But I propose to you that these changes are not worth making because they are too inconsequential to add or subtract from the overall experience. Seriously, did you ever watch Star Wars: A New Hope and think, “This scene would be great if only it had two more rocks”? Lucas’ odd obsession seems to have turned him into a modern-day Sisyphus, endlessly rolling digital boulders up the hill yet in his own mind, never reaching the top.

The bigger tragedy to me is that the later movies — paradoxically numbered 1, 2, and 3 — feature leaden, horribly-directed dialog, and possibly the worst “love story” ever committed to film. I seriously question the point of changing, let’s say, one thousand battle droids to one thousand and ten, while in the foreground the “love story” is making you roll your eyes and gag on your popcorn.

In spirit, though, I have been guilty of exactly the same thing. My recent experience with NaNoWriMo continues to resonate inside me, and right now I’m as fanatical about the dangers of over-revising as a recently-quit smoker is about second-hand smoke.

For your first draft, let this guy out.

Yes: the process should be, whether in fiction, non-fiction, or marketing communications, that on your first draft, you let your inner madman or child take over, and you write down every crazy idea you can, with little regard for quality. And yes, in a second pass, you invite Mr. Spock to take a cold, hard, Vulcan look at what’s there, and fix it.

Second draft: let this guy out.

The hard part for some of us is, And then you stop. So you can publish.

A saying attributed to various originators says, “A book is never finished, only abandoned.” At the time my first two novels were published, I felt that way. There was always one more sentence I could smooth out; one more adverb I could select more accurately.

But today I feel nothing but regret for the hours wasted on deliberations such as, “Is ‘glad’ the word I mean here? Or should I change it to ‘happy’?” Leaving poetry out of the discussion, these “glad/happy” changes are exactly like Lucas’s two extra rocks. They don’t make a difference.

You know why Lucas has time for such self-involved fiddling? Because he no longer needs to earn a living. Since you and I cannot say the same, we don’t have time for pointless tweaking. If you want to write full time, you need to think like a TV writer: make it as good as you can, as fast as you can. It’s a craft, not the ultimate artistic expression of your soul.

Each writer has to judge for herself or himself how much to revise, before reaching the point of overworking the text. Right now, I spend my days as a bureaucrat. If given the choice between writing one epic perfect work that takes my whole life, or writing a dozen really good books that let me quit the world of suits, committees, and fearful group-think, I’m going for the dozen.

In one of Lucas’ most derided revisions, he changed a key scene in A New Hope so that instead of Han Solo shooting first, Greedo shoots first. This one change sands off the rough edges that makes Han Solo’s character multi-faceted. It also ruins the arc at the end, where the smuggler we believe to be hopelessly self-interested and cynical has a change of heart and returns to help the Rebellion. Compared to the theatrical version, on the disc versions Han Solo is sarcastic but cuddly. Thus, second-guessing yourself may in fact turn your bold first instincts into dumbed-down conformity.

In my first marketing job, I was staying late one night to fine-tune our corporate newsletter to graphical perfection. My boss happened by and asked what I was doing. Thinking I was earning big brownie points, I said, “I’m staying late to make sure this page spread looks just right.” He looked puzzled for a second, then said, “Do you really think those extra hours will sell even one extra unit of our product? Because that’s all that matters.” I laugh now at how much that perspective blindsided me. I realized right then that, involved in my work, I had completely lost sight of what my audience cared about.

So as you write, what is your goal? Keep it firmly in mind as you revise. Do the revisions you’re making really matter? If your goal is to regularly knock out solid pro-level work, so you can earn a living, you’ll know when you’ve done enough. Ship it! If your goal is to endlessly indulge your obsessive and perfectionist side, well… knock yourself out rolling those digital rocks up the hill.