Thursday, January 29, 2009


First I direct you to yesterday's post. (Go ahead, scroll down. It won't take you too long.)

Next, I offer an entirely unrequested and largely self-indulgent explanation of its creation. Not because the details of my creative process are so interesting, but because I think there's some insight to be had into how a work of imagination--fiction, film, music, whatever--comes to exist, and how maybe the final version is never truly the best.

In this case, the writing was easy. The first paragraph popped into my head more or less fully formed. I didn't know who the unnamed "she" was, to whom she was speaking, or to what she was responding negatively. It could have been anything, but as I sat down to write, it became another dispute between two lovers, a depiction of a relationship in stasis. (Write about what you know, I say.)

But what you can read isn't what I originally wrote. The most obvious difference is, the piece was originally written in first person, the events filtered through the male protagonist's view. As I wrote, I abandoned this voice for two reasons: 1) Since most of the (non-fictional) posts around here are written from my point of view, and sometimes get painfully personal, I felt anyone reading this might assume I transcribed an actual occurrence in my life, and 2) I didn't like the tone, which was too judgmental of the female's point-of-view.

That change, though, altered not only the tone of the story, but the actual events. When I switched to a third person voice, I rejected the notion of an omniscient narrator, so the descriptive passages only suggest the character's attitudes, but can never describe what they're thinking. (I cheated slightly at one point.) Because of that self-imposed limitation (generally, I dislike the use of the omniscient third-person voice in what I read as well as what I write), I couldn't allude to past events in these characters' lives unless they brought them up. But why would they come out and say things both of them already know?

They wouldn't, of course. And so, I tried to keep them from doing that. But that became a limitation, because I had very little to build upon, and the piece became a sketch, not a fully-formed story. Which is fine, and obviously it's the version I chose to post, and on the whole, I think it's more consistent. Its original form was messier, and maybe it had a little more depth, and at its best was better...but I couldn't quite make it work.

This, I know, is what writing is--sometimes you sacrifice the very thing that inspired a piece because it no longer fits once you get into it. Sometimes you start something, but you realize your own limitations, and fall back into the familiar (which is what I think happened to the late Donald Westlake with his ambitious but ultimately unsatisfying The Ax) and sometimes you plow ahead into a realm in which you have no discernable talent (which is what happens whenever Stephen King tries writing "serious" fiction). Sometimes it all comes together, and you make a masterpiece.

But however great they are, even those masterpieces might have been improved. Consider this:

That, of course, was George Harrison's original demo for While My Guitar Gently Weeps. This isn't, obviously, the version that was originally released, the version that features the other Beatles. That song became a cornerstone of The White Album, surely one of the greatest works in the rock & roll canon...but isn't this version better? Or at least different--dreamier, languid, fluid, less hard-edged than the version we've always known.

On the other hand, should we have ever heard this? Isn't there something to be said for the official version being the only version? Though Harrison might have preferred the original, the fact is, he and his bandmates only officially approved one version for release. For better or for worse, shouldn't that be the final statement?

By offering any kind of opinion on the relative merits of released versus unreleased material, aren't we, in effect, second-guessing the artists themselves? Sure, democracy is great, but what gives us the right to do that? And can't that lead to artists second-guessing themselves? We know where that leads--George Lucas' awful attempts to improve the original Star Wars trilogy or, more seriously, the disaster known as Apocalypse Now Redux.

It's hard to keep from thinking what might have been. What we have is all we have, flaws included, and is perhaps all we should have. I find Huckleberry Finn maddeningly discursive, am less than satisfied with the second half of The Threepenny Opera, and dearly wish The White Album had been shorn of at least a quarter of its songs. (Mostly Paul's.) They could all be improved, yet they're all legitimately great, and maybe whatever problems they have are like fingerprints, signs of individuality, a reminder that even god-like creators are, after all, human.