In last week’s 2nd Annual NerdCon: Stories convention, held at the Minneapolis Convention Center, I attended a panel discussion entitled “Sotto Voce: Finding Your Voice”. Many of the panelists talked about staying true to yourself, searching for your true voice, and the difficulty that sometimes arises when you find yourself defaulting to a voice that you think you should have, or to a voice that you feel will please others, rather than staying true to a voice that is your very own. They talked about the writing process being one of discovery, of enlightenment, of tenacity.
Author Wesley Chu thinks it’s more like making sausage.
What he was alluding to was that the writing process, for him, was made up of many different factors – some more easily dealt with than others – that hopefully will coalesce in the end game into something distinctive and enticing. But his statement of “It’s like making sausage, really,” not only made me laugh, but made me think. Throw a bunch of “ingredients” – many of them kind of gross, on their own – into a grinder, turn the crank, and see what comes out. Tweak the recipe with a little more sage, a little less nutmeg, easy on the red pepper, just a touch of brown sugar, maybe not the brown sugar, maybe a pinch more red pepper… and hopefully you get to the point where you can make a signature sausage that hits just the right spot.
When you’re a contracted writer, like Wesley – someone who has agreed to write a certain amount of work in a set amount of time – you can’t stop and worry about whether or not your voice is coming through, not initially, anyway. You write on a schedule, you write to meet goals, to hit progress markers. You edit and gain feedback, you edit and gain feedback, and then you tweak and edit again, all the time with an eye on your deadline. You adjust and rework, you tighten and prune, you rewrite and re-edit, and always there is a countdown looming. Once you’ve created, added, subtracted, revised, shored up, inserted inspiration, deleted dross, closed all the gaps and polished it up, you hope your voice has come through. You trust it has. That the mashing up of everything that’s been through the mix comes out glorious.
It may sound a bit mercenary, it may seem somewhat un-romantic, dis-glamorous, boring – it may sound like a lot of work. But much of writing is, honestly. It’s work. Earnest Hemingway famously said, “There is nothing to writing. You just sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” What is left out of that quote is “…for days and days on end.” When Neil Gaiman says about writing, “This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until it’s done. It’s that easy, and that hard,” he doesn’t expound on how you have to keep putting those words down without stopping too often, without evaluating your process, without worrying too much about quality, at least initially, and how many of those words will be dead ends, or grindstones, or unnecessary, or just plain wrong. At least I assume that’s a measure of the “hard part” to which he alludes.
Start with an idea, take raw resources – the best you can find or afford – chill them and put them through a cold grinder until they are mottled all together, mix in that which lends them flavor, and texture and heat, and taste and tweak until you’re ready to stuff them in a format, perhaps assign them to a genre, and hope that your novel or poem or short story or song sizzles when it hits the frying pan, draws people in with its piquant aroma, and satisfies to some degree once consumed.
Yup, sounds like sausage to me. Well played, Mr. Chu. Very well played.
~ Sharon Browning