I had a minor epiphany this evening while talking to a graduate student at a party. This has been a rather mournful week for me--I finished a draft of a novel last Friday, and instead of feeling the celebratory frisson a non-writer might assume to be my due, I fell into a funk. First drafts, I have learned, are like casual sex. They can be great fun, and they might even feel like love. This week, however, I am knocked up. And starting soon, I'm going to have to start changing diapers.
Or, as I put it to my student earlier: I grew up Catholic. And the message of being a Catholic is: you're a sinner. And you need to repent. But while you're repenting, please keep in mind that you're still a sinner, and it doesn't matter how much good you do in your life, because a couple of total strangers who are distantly related to you pissed off God, like, a million years ago, and so you are inherently sinful, but if you don't toe the line you'll be even more sinful, and then God will be pissed off at you, too. So get on your knees, motherfucker, and get to work.
So, um, yeah, I am not a Catholic anymore. But boy have I brought the lessons of my youth to my writing. Because the message of novel writing is: you suck, and you're going to keep sucking. But it might be possible to suck a little less than other people, so cowboy up and face your suckitude head on.
Revision, as I have said here before, is the process of staring your suckitude in the face and accepting its inevitability, but then trying to work with it somehow. Early in my career I got a terrible review--one of the first generation of Amazon customer comments, in fact. This is what it had to say about my first novel: "It just goes to show, you can't polish a turd."
Ouch. But you know what? You can polish a turd, sometimes to a high sheen, so it doesn't even seem remotely like one anymore. And if you put your mind to it, and if you grew up Catholic, the entire polishing process can be kind of interesting. At least it is for me--or has become thus, after many years of forcing myself to do it. Art is flawed, and the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get to work burnishing those flaws into something new and better, that stands on its own, independently of you and your dumb ideas.