Of late I have been having a pretty fun time listening to the demo recordings of a band I dig on which has broken up. After they broke up they decided to release a lot of demo tracks and unreleased songs for free online and it’s been fascinating to see where songs I know and love began and to see how they evolved. I admire the hell out of the band for releasing these songs because it’s rare when we fans get a glimpse into the making of the art that we love so dearly. Alas, music is one of the very rare arts that you see this happen, which got me to thinking about what I do, and the various versions that roll down the river before they become what they are.
For writing, the most important part of the process is most times in the editing. If you are open to them, ideas are all over the place so inspiration, while not always right in front of us, is there for us to find but when you are writing the stories really become more than skeletons in the editing process. It is in editing that you can connect dots that may have been forgotten, can add more shading to characters, can flesh them out, and can take the time to look at the piece as a whole and see what works, what doesn’t, and how you can connect the two things. For me, this is certainly true, and the best example I can think of comes in the form of the upcoming book The Meep Sheep, which really evolved over time. The biggest changes came in the last story I wrote for the book, which was to take what I had done before and to expand it and bring it all to a conclusion. Character motivations changed, characters were beefed up, more action and suspense was added, and the nature of the book as a whole changed as I went about the process of creating the book. You see, when I had the idea for the last story, which came well before I got about writing it, I had a lot of ideas about what I wanted to do, but over time it changed. I looked at the book, looked at the characters, and looked at the themes and re-thought them. It was interesting to see how much changed from the draft to the final version of the final story. Heck, the entire book changed as I edited it all a last time. When seen as a whole it had to flow in a different way than the stories did before, when they stood alone. They all had to be linked, by themes, by characters, and by moments, and that had to come together in the editing.
I always wonder how interesting it would be to see the books we love in their various forms. Sure, there are a few books out there where you can get a taste of it, books that were not completed at the time of the author’s death, or works that were found well after death. But how interesting would it be to see a complete work, the notes and ideas that started it, the early draft, the final draft, and notes on what changed and why. I think it’d be a fascinating look into the process and very magic of writing. And I mean magic.
For me, writing is magic because I cannot tell a story, recite a story to a recorder and have it be as effective as it is when I write it. There is some strange magic that happens between the brain and the hands and when I am writing the stories almost appear, as if from a spell. Hand in hand with that is editing, where a story that is not very good, and feels false, can be cleaned up, re-dressed, and in many cases raised from the dead.
Now, the question would become for us – is the magic in the work lost when the wizard is revealed behind the curtain? I dunno. Perhaps. Perhaps seeing how art, how books, come together would ruin the mystery for the fans. Or perhaps it would give them a better appreciation of what the ‘craft’ is that so many writers talk about. Maybe even seeing the wizard behind the curtain we’d still marvel at the wonders they did, and how they did them, just the same.