Ridding the Radicals
by William Alan Rieser
I did not become proficient at writing until I was willing to go under the literary knife. Surgery was a critical factor with both short stories and novels. Like some maladies, although the symptoms were in plain sight, I could not attribute my suffering, my lack of acceptance, to anything recognizable. The operation commenced when my wife and severest critic said: “That’s awful! You can say it better.” I recall my disbelief and intransigence, my unwillingness at first to admit to flaw and my frustration with her inexactitude. To placate her incessant complaints and unreasonableness, I decided initially to experiment by rewriting a passage until it elicited her approval. It was an awakening.
I did not and do not believe that the surgeon, her choice of scalpels, digging technique or drug selection matters much in cosmetic alterations. Remolding the fiendish blemish does make a difference. The nasty culprit is usually self, inseparable from ego and often unwieldy in terms of adequate expression. Weed that grass and you’ll have a lawn. I discovered specific traits to avoid by rewriting, nearly always involving my personality. In fact, my stories approached significantly greater clarity with the deliberate sublimation of me. Confusing, isn’t it? Yet, it seems that tales struggle to be told, wafting about the author’s preferences like subterranean seeds, eager to thrust upward into the light but needing a moist push to break out of their dark confinement.
Once you trod the self-critical path, realizing the superior needs of the reader as opposed to yourself, you have a much better chance of being read. Real readers desire words that help them escape reality. The last thing they want is your personal conflict intruding on theirs. What appeals to you more, a Tolkien fantasy or a market diatribe by Greenspan? Know thyself and in the knowing, get rid of it. Honest appraisal, reappraisal and tri-analytical rebuke are healthy, revelatory and sometimes inspirational. Do yourself a favor and remove yourself from your stories so that you can tell them well and lastingly.
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