02 June 2015 0 comments

Those words lost in translation

I wanted to preface this impromptu discussion born of a stream of tweets churned out on my Twitter feed. This is not about inexperienced writers snubbing their noses at any sort of editorial effort on their work. This is about knowing the rules and knowing when to break them, and breaking them in a specific sort of way as an artistic technique. Let us not confuse the two, for we have all of us read unedited stories published on Smashwords or Lulu or Amazon that made our brains bleed with the urge to claw out our eyes. This is about the presence of prose poetry in fiction as a writing technique, and about how much of it is damaged or lost in translation through the course of the editorial stage of the publishing process.
Prose poetry is a recognized form of art, in that it is a recognized form of poetry. Sadly, it is not wholly recognized as a form of prose. Or at least, it is not recognized as a form of fiction prose.




I know that I am not alone in this. I also know that I am not the only one who struggles with how to maintain some kind of precarious balance between the details of the art and the polish demanded by the editorial process of the publishing industry. We don't want to be accused of being Anne Rice, too good for her editor, churning out chaff. We just want to be true to our artistic vision, and it sometimes goes beyond simple plot structure, character development, and setting descriptions. It's in the language. It's in every word. Just as the painter considers each brush stroke with deliberation and precision.

I have never been a writer to churn out shallow fluff. And by no measure do I write fiction to pay my bills. I have a shoddy day job that I tolerate that does that. I write because I have demons in my head, voices that argue with one another while I'm distracted, whisper their life story just loud enough to echo through the stillness in those quiet moments when I find a bit of peace.
It's the best way to describe the process, at any rate. It's the most accurate means of putting into words something that cannot be described. Like a painter who stares at a blank canvas until the painting reveals itself, layer upon layer. Like the Renaissance sculptor, who claimed, I seem to recall, that the marble had the statue in it already, he just set it free.

Though far from being a master in my chosen artistic medium let alone a genius beyond my time, I am an artist all the same. And in that regard much of the process, and the struggles, translate. Including the censors. While the constraints imposed on me hardly compared to Michelangelo and his turbulent professional relationship with the Holy Roman Catholic Church, there are days when I can sympathize with what he, as an artist, experienced on a psychological level.

It's not that I made Lucifer too alluring.
But all the same, there are times when I found myself struggling with what was lost in translation from original draft to the final product that ends up in the reader's hands.
I'm reminded of a reader who once mentioned, perhaps flippantly or in passing, that they would enjoy my writing so much more if it resembled more strongly the content of my blog. It happened early enough on that I frowned, filed it away, and forgot about it.

Polished writing has its place. For some writers, or some stories, it is in the polishing that their story and the style of its telling truly come to shine.
Yet not every story is a diamond waiting to be cut just so to enhance its luster and depth. Some stories are most evocative when their writing is left raw, when the imagery and poetry of the writer's words and language and cadence remains unmarred.

When I began my foray into published writing, I had no clear defining labels for my style or technique. I just wrote the words, let the characters talk to the reader through my fingers, and worried about the rest of it...well, never, to be honest. Or so I thought.
The struggle I experienced through the editorial process was real. Very real. Excruciatingly. It resembled a ritual disembowelling. With every editorial restructuring of a sentence, through the course of every sentence in a paragraph, the tone and flavor of my prose shifted. And with every shift the artist in me screamed and flailed and struggled against the straightjacket, helpless and confined, terrified at the prospect of the impending lobotomy.

And it was all because I didn't understand, except on a visceral level, the value of my prose and the weight of my style. It was all because I trusted that polish held the most value. It was such a battle, though, because one cannot transform etched dinosaur bone into precious gemstones no matter how much elbow grease one applies. Instead of refining the prose, all that happened was the raw edges got worn away, smoothed over, the teeth blunted, the claws formed down into an immaculate manicure.

As anyone who's read my writing knows, that's not a quality of my prose. That is not me. I cut my nails to the quick to keep from gnawing on them, I chew the callouses from the sides of my thumbs. I have the hands of an excavator, unearthing those bones inch by inch to engrave my story in scrollwork and slashing runes.

I appreciate the learning experience that the editorial process provides. I have grown and matured as a writer thanks in some part to that. My style has not changed, but I have learned to hone that style, to sharpen my technique. Deep down, though, I question whether my true art has suffered to some degree as a result. I am still reteaching myself to trust my instincts, my intuition. After all, it's not paranoia if your suspicions prove true, is it? I try to stay true to honesty and seek the truth, always, but how does one identify truth if there is no definition, no label?

I had a reader recently inquire about the original unedited version of Black's story. They were curious to see how much had altered and what impact those alterations would have on the language and delivery of the story. Black's story has a strong voice and unique style to it, and the stream of conscious technique is inherently prose poetry. It was written to be raw, slightly disordered, misdirecting and even misleading in its meandering journey from front cover to back. It is, as a piece of art, not so much the destination but the vibrant quality of the path the reader walks, the evocative experience of each moment, saturating the reader and oftentimes submerging them.

It is no wonder then that some readers expressed feeling claustrophobic, closed in, constrained. And at the time, I still didn't get it, I still didn't understand. It didn't click. Looking back I wonder if they felt that way in part because that sector of the audience didn't connect with the artistic delivery, or was it in fact that the artistic delivery was incomplete or flawed as a direct result of the editorial process?

It has taken me a few years to come back around to a state of mind where I can approach that work of art again without the residual negativity overwhelming me. The prospect of revisiting it when the contract expires at the end of this year actually incites a spark of interest, fueled by these tidbits, these puzzle pieces, that are finally sliding into place. There are so many of them. The artist in me sobs, grief-stricken, as the shards of shattered marble and dust settle against my upturned palms.

I cannot undo what is done. But I can make it anew. I can make it what it wanted to be. I can forge it into what it should have been all along.

And I find myself wondering how many of us as writers and artists turn to self-publishing for this reason. To hold true to ourselves, to hold true to our artistic vision, to keep the teeth long and pointed, the claws edged razor sharp, to retain that raw edge. Sure, it might draw the reader's blood here and there, but damn it they'll feel the pain and their pulse quickens and they feel alive. Their blood stains the bone alongside mine, though. They aren't the first, they won't be the last. But the experience, oh the experience, if it's raw enough they'll keep coming back for more. Just like I do. My muses know it, and they laugh at me, and then fight over who gets to whisper their story next.
 
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