As many have observed, when it comes to the creative process, it is much the case that ‘writing is rewriting’. But once you’ve drafted, and redrafted, then sat on something for a while, and drafted again, and redrafted some more… well, using your own judgement to decide if something is ‘finished’ is not straightforward. This can be a particular problem in the world of social media – and certainly with blogging, where often you are serving as your own ‘editor’.
You may have a desire to control what you are doing. But even when something has been posted off, you endlessly spot things that could have been done differently. It’s difficult to know at what point you’ve created something worthwhile. But if you never commit, throwing out everything you ever produce, you’ll never have something on which to build next time. And yet, a bizarre sort of fear lingers that, should you ‘make it’ as a writer, your biographer will go through your rough drafts, exposing your teenage efforts. Not that there’s anything wrong as such with writing when you’re a teenager. It’s just that these developmental pieces are just that – writing for practice, writing to give yourself a marker against which to do better, writing to write out the bad ideas. Anything on the internet has the potential to last indefinitely. This can provoke anxiety about publishing, for fear that a mistake might be spotted, an idea should have been presented differently, or some other writerly embarrassment.
What then is the source of this discomfort? It is, perhaps, the knowledge that in the modern age, it is difficult to maintain mystique. Through social media it is possible to communicate your every waking thought, if so desired. This is a greatly different experience to that of writers and artists of yesteryear, who were generally releasing into the world only fully-formed, finalised works. The audience did not encounter their creative process – and it was not necessary for them to do so. With their – very human – drafting and editing process never exposed to daylight, and the mess of the creative process veiled, it only contributed to an image of writers as deliverers of perfection. The way of the future is likely to be very different, with writers engaging directly with their audiences, further blurring the line between ownership and the finality of a piece.
It is interesting to think about how the reputation of the great novels, so revered today, would ever have been established if every element of their creation had been presented and pored over. Sausages and women – if you want to enjoy the experience, never watch the preparation of either, said Oscar Wilde. There’s a strong case for adding fiction to that list!