Literary Beer Goggling -or- Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon

Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon: the mysterious principle by which any piece of prose or poetry, fiction or non-fiction-- which appears coherent, insightful and well-written one evening-- changes into a giant bubbling puddle of ectoplasmic goo and poop when you look at it the next morning.

How does this happen? I was thinking about this over the weekend as I rummaged through some boxes of aged creative writing. I was searching for the final draft of a humor book I'd written right after college.

I recall liking this novel. I recall feeling good about it.

I even recall proudly asking my friends Scoobie, Austin and Rhet to read some of it. (The poor dears. How they have suffered!)

Now, I didn't yet locate the final draft. Which I understand from Scoobie was a lot better than the steaming pile of equine excrement I seem to have stepped in.

But honestly, I don't have much hope for it. Based on what I've seen so far, I think Scoobie was simply trying keep me from setting fire to my entire body of work then and there-- in one massive smoldering flame-o-rama. She was probably trying to save her eyebrows from singing.

Who can blame her?

Because it's very clear Nocturnal Composition Decomposition Phenomenon has hit, big-time.

So, again, I ask you: how does it happen?

What chemical of delusion courses through a writer's brain during the act of writing that makes us misinterpret hideously malformed plot-lines... bloodless dialogue... and clammy satire... as something even remotely safe to see under the golden light of dawn?

As I've grown older, I've become more aware of this phenomenon. I've tempered my enthusiasm for new projects with a more guarded attitude. Sort of like you would each time you send your toddler up to bat in T-ball. You cheer the kid on with a: "Hey, do your best, little guy!" With some knowledge that no matter how much you love him, he could wet himself in front of everybody, or run entirely the wrong way around the bases.

But it makes me fearful for past blog posts, I have to say. How can we trust what will hold up to time, if the writing process makes us blind and brain-dead to the truth-- if only for a euphoric fleeting moment?

It's the writing equivalent of beer goggling, some might say. And I'd love to know, how can we face ourselves that morning after, when what we see just really ain't purty?



Shirley said...

Lol! I've learned through having kids how not to be a perfectionist. If you caught my writing six years ago you would find my writing more thought out with better grammer. Now, I just don't care. I have too much to think about to care. I go in with the thought if you don't like it you don't have to read it and I work best under pressure any way, must be a journalism instinct. Beer Googling, for me, would probably be slight improvement for me at the moment. :)

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Shirley- Well, your down-to-earth perspective on it sure goes a long way! :)

Prefers Her Fantasy Life said...

As a writer, I've given myself permission to be "adequate".

And in addition to the NCD Phenomenon, I find that even the great books that at one time I thought changed my life, don't seem to be as great. Maybe it's life experience or cynicism, but we tend to be engaged in or awakened by fewer and fewer things.

Which may explain why people what reality TV.

Not me, of course.

Jenn Thorson said...

Meg- I've experienced that as well-- books and film which don't inspire me the way they once did. It's fascinating how the mind interprets things.

If only there were some way to go back in time and temper the enthusiasm. Only, I suppose that's really the only way we learn.

Da Old Man said...

You speak of delusion, but instead could it not be enlightenment? We all change, and things we embraced just yesterday, today are cast aside as useless or even trite.
I'm sure your book, when written, was a treasure. But currently, with your greatly increased experiences, you view it as tripe. I'm willing to bet it was neither, but something in between.
If you are like most, you are the worst critic of Jenn. Cut her a break. I've heard she's a pretty good writer, and a decent lady.
So, do the rewrite, already. I'm waiting to read it. :)

Mark said...

This is indeed one of the dangers of blogging, because we hit "post" as soon as the thing is halfway logical. That's also the virtue of blogging. It captures our current state of mind.

But more involved manuscripts of mine always work out bad the first time round. I hate submitting stuff on deadline when I know an extra round would help. But sometimes we just have to get stuff done. The author above who gives herself permission to be adequate is on to something.

Even junk has value, though. It's our junk, after all, and there might be some gold nuggets amongst all the goody icky parts.

Course there are also times when we can read something that seems better the second time round. I wrote that? It's okay to give oneself a pat on the back occasionally.

Jenn Thorson said...

Da Old Man- Er... sure... we can call it enlightenment. :) That's got some good spin to it. Thanks for the impromptu pep talk. I hope to excavate my attic and see where the heck the final draft is lurking.

Mark- Yup, even with my writing for work, I know sometimes there are deadlines and you can only do as well as you can in the allotted time. It's a continual balancing act.

jadedconformist said...

I think part of the creative process is jumping in without worrying too much about constraints and feeling like things should be perfect and/or fit in some mold. That's not to say you should be careless, but a good way to stifle creativity is to feel constricted by your own fears of imperfection. ;) Feeling 'silly' the next day is a small risk vs. the reward of accomplishment fueled by reckless creativity. ;)

Jenn Thorson said...

Jaded- It's that ol' fine line you have to walk between accepting everything from the pen as golden and muzzling ideas before they ever hit the paper. It's easy to bounce to both sides of the spectrum. It's funny how distance gives you an entirely different view of it all.

Nanny Goats In Panties said...

OK, this?
"giant bubbling puddle of ectoplasmic goo and poop"
Literary genius!

Jenn Thorson said...

Nanny Goats- Heh, I sure want to go down in the literature annals under that ectoplasm/poop line. :)

VE said...

Ha ha ha. Perfect definition. I agree partially. I haven't been writing blog material that long (the only thing I write) but if I go back to my first couple of months stuff...yikes. If I go back a year though, I still find it all pretty funny. Humor is rough though; it relies so much on the state of now that it is more difficult to still be funny later on. The further you walk down that road of time, the less relevant it might be. The really good stuff is when it becomes timeless.

Jenn Thorson said...

VE- Thanks for your thoughtful perspective, VE! I agree with you on the concept of timelessness being important to humor.

You can set humor in a particular time, but it's the things that everyone can identify with -- the stuff that doesn't change from generation to generation or trend to trend-- that makes it stick.

ReformingGeek said...

Wow! Another name for writer's hangover. I like it. I hate it when I feel so proud of a post and I think hubby will love it and all I get after I ask "Did you read it?" is "Uh huh". Oh well.

Jenn Thorson said...

ReformingGeek- Awww! Yeah, that's the worst. I recall that one myself. Totally feel your pain. :)

DeadRooster said...

I recently found a whole box of my short stories from the early 90's. I sat down and critiqued a few of them. Back then, I wanted to be Ray Bradbury.

Turns out I'm not.

Chat Blanc said...

Not being a professional writer I allow myself a significant handicap on the goggling meter. However, despite that I'm hoping that some day, perhaps in the not so distant future there will be a catastrophic meltdown of the servers that contain my blog material. Then I will begin a massive campaign of denial. "It never existed and you can't prove otherwise," will be my mantra!

Jenn Thorson said...

Rooster- But I can absolutely see where, in reading Bradbury, you'd feel inspired to do so. I feel the same way every time I read his work. He MAKES you want to be him. He makes it seem so easy to write beautifully. :)

Chat Blanc- Sandy, I don't think you have anything to worry about if the server meltdown doesn't come. I mean, you've given us all so much-- the bacon bikini, for instance. A server meltdown can never take that away from us. We won't let it. :)

Chris Wood said...

It's very very hard to stay objective, especially on something you've put a lot into.

I would say that setting fire to it is probably NOT going to be a plus! (I know, I burned all my notes one week before final university exams when I was drunk).

You could try reading it in a completely different setting? That can often give a better approach.

You like PG Wodehouse? Way to go!

Jenn Thorson said...

Chris- Heh, no, I promise to avoid the fire idea. :) And also welcome fellow Wodehouse fan! I hope more folks will check him out-- his writing is extremely witty, very clever with a turn of phrase.