I’m at 46.6k words on the prewriting. Since I’ve taken essentially a full week off to deal with moving and teaching demands, this amount of chunky knowledge is difficult to reabsorb after spending any small amount of time away from it.
It occurred to me yesterday that I’m doomed. Writing, being the encoded communication of information, is therefore composed of two essential parts, the encoding process itself, and the information contained therein. If you MFA, you basically surrender yourself to coming at this writing problem from the perspective of the encoder, giving priority to the process. If you decide the hell with grad school, or any other like method of craft training, chances are you spend most of your time looking for the information, the quaintest nouns and best ways to verb them, and to be honest I think I might’ve preferred doing it that way.
Those who focus their efforts on the other side of the code are free from the restrictions placed on the craft-side writer by the looming, domineering inevitability of imperfection. They train themselves, if they’re conscious of that training at all, on plot and dialogue and pacing and structure, and every new effort is an expansion on the body of what’s possible. I read an article today about Stephen King’s displeasure with the Kubrick adaptation of The Shining. There are a few major differences between the plots of the two, but the major sticking point for me is what was left almost word-for, which was the scene where Jack invents himself a fictional bartender to talk to. Kubrick left this scene largely untouched. The sum changes in the script were meant to affect how the plot got to this scene, and how it got away from it again. He saw a cleaner, more streamlined, more haunting version of the beginning and the end, all of which (in my opinion) hinged on Jack’s turn to madness in this scene. King was pretty upset with what was left out, eventually funding his own made-for-television version which stuck closer to the book. To him, all of the events he’d originally imagined were essential to the work as a whole. Cutting stuff out or altering it significantly would inevitably detract from the final product. It’s simple addition/subtraction to him, and this is the conflict: the whats vs. the hows.
Which I say knowing full well that King got his bachelor’s in English. But he damn sure didn’t go for his MFA, and every new book he comes out with probably seems to him an expansion of the map. Like holy shit! look over there! Who put that there, huh?! Amazing! Meanwhile every craft-based writer knows full well that the face of the planet depends not a jot on the map that represents it. And that map can neither expand nor contract. What’s there is there. It can only be rendered in finer (or coarser) detail. And there is no limit to which that refining can be taken.
Honestly it sounds a lot more fun to be a seeker of the what. Go out and experience something and let the critics decide if you’ve said right (spoiler: you haven’t). Meanwhile I’m about to teach my freshman class the essentiality of the how. I’m giving them Morrison and Achebe and Momaday and Anzaldúa to ponder if not comprehend, and I’m insisting that the pretty colors they don are, and should be, an accurate reflection of their soul. Whether they like it or not. Because there is no amelioration of doom, but you can spread the doom around a little.