Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Is it ever okay to compromise your work? (02/15/09)



Featured writer: Glanda Widger



Contributors this month:
Al Levenson
Betty Rodgers
Christine Falcone
Claudia Larson
Don Edgers
Glanda Widger
Kit Croucher
Susan Bono


Compromise?

by Glanda Widger

What issues would actually cause me to compromise my work? Starvation is good, also homelessness or the desire to never see myself in print.

If I am in the position that I must accept compromising work into which I have poured hours of blood, sweat, tears and bleeding fingertips, I choose to consider that the word "compromise" is a noun. The explanation being that the noun version of the dreaded word is:(an intermediate state between conflicting opinions, reached by mutual concession). The publisher and I reach a mutual understanding. I do some of the rewrites and we are both moderately satisfied. Hence I see my work on the printed page of some nondescript but actually published periodical.

If I choose to view the word as a verb, the meaning changes to something totally unacceptable: (expediently accepting standards that are lower than desirable). Guilt would wrack my body accompanied by heart-wrenching sobs. I would view the desecration of my hours of toil as villainous, Snidely Whiplash violently rendering my well-chosen words asunder, ruthlessly attacking my beloved masterpiece so as to make it unrecognizable. There he is, twirling his handlebar mustache and grinning in evil glee while using white-out with wild abandon.

Could I live with that? No, absolutely not. Well, to be honest, it would depend on how many cans of potted meat I had consumed in the past week.


Glanda Widger's bio: Besides painting the living room for the fourth time this year and walking the dog at five in the morning in ten degree weather, Glanda enjoys poking fun at life. At her age there’s nothing much left to do.

Is it ever okay to compromise your work?

  by Al Levenson

You can't compromise your work. You can only compromise yourself. Your work speaks for itself. If it is compromised, you know it. And if you know it, everyone else who is as thoughtful as you knows it, too. The very people whose respect you want are the most able to see through you.

What are you saying to your critique group if you show up with a first draft? I don't respect your time. My work is flawed and I am too lazy to fix it, so you do it for me.

What are so saying to an agent if you send flawed work? I hope you are a mediocre agent that I can slip shoddy work past you. But I hope you have top-notch markets anyway. And, if you reject me for my flawed work, I hope you won't remember that when I send you something else.

I am new to this writing game. I need to be my own harshest critique. I need to discover as many flaws as I can before I ask anyone else to critique my work. I will be sufficiently humbled by the flaws my workshop partners find. Only by giving my best can I earn the patience necessary to receive useful criticism.

Is it ever okay to compromise your work? Nope.



AL Levenson writes rewrites his flawed stories in Alameda, CA.


Benign Intent

  by Betty Rodgers

Fifteen years ago I learned what it means to compromise your writing. I wrote a weekly newspaper column that celebrated the unsung heroes of the community and featured positive, heartwarming news. The column's reach was far greater than my wildest imagination, as people still remember and comment on it to this day.

Despite the best of intentions, I occasionally offended someone. I remember reporting about an upcoming event at the local "Vets" building. On delivery day, my phone rang. The caller was an elderly gentleman who informed me our nation's veterans had sacrificed much and deserved the dignity of being referred to as "veterans" and not something as glib as "vets."

Another day, I reported the effort by a group of parents to rally around a highly respected elementary school principal who was seriously ill. One of the mothers had called me and wanted to expand the teacher's support network. I was thrilled to help, but after that article was published, I received a very distressed call from the principal. He said I had put his job in jeopardy by not checking first for his permission.

Sometime later, a local group sent news of an event they were hosting. I struggled over whether or not to publish it because the group was extremely controversial, and to include their news would be very offensive to some of my readers. I turned to the editor for his advice because I had never practiced censorship before. He said, "Do what you think is right." I made the decision to not offend people.

Out of fear, my writing had become more and more compromised and "politically correct."

After about three years, I decided to trim down my obligations by ending the column. In a subsequent conversation with a friend, he asked, "Why?" After hearing my explanation, in all candor and with no mal intent, he told me it was just as well because it was a benign column anyway. In an effort to please everyone and never offend, I had lost my way, and he knew it.

Yes, there were, and still are, many favorable comments, but I'll let you be the judge as to which opinion I remember most often.


Betty Rodgers is watching for the crocus to appear in her Boise, Idaho, flowerbed while awaiting a bird-seed bailout plan. The finches, juncos, quail, siskins, sparrows, doves and flickers in her backyard practice unrestrained eating habits.

Room to Grow

  by Christine Falcone

I remember the time I was writing copy for a pretzel company. They liked what I wrote, only they wanted to modify it. To me, this was an acceptable request. I wasn't attached to the copy or the company and/or their product. Besides, I was getting paid.

But then there was the time a local publication (which shall remain nameless) accepted my poem, but only on the condition that they would be able to change one word.

One word. But one word, in the container of a poem, is critical. It can change the very meaning of an idea or a metaphor,infuse it with an entirely different flavor. I was sort of outraged.

Did I consent to this change in my poem? I did. And, although I didn't feel very good about it at the time, I'm glad I did. The poem was published and the word the editors changed actually made the poem stronger. I couldn't see that at the time, but now enough time has passed and my perspective has changed. I'm not as close to it, not as attached.

It's interesting that the word or the idea of "attachment" has come up twice in my answer to this month's question. Perhaps that's a clue that we need to create distance and space between ourselves and our work, that it's the attachment to the work that creates the problem. Of course, a certain amount of attachment is necessary. And why wouldn't we feel "attached"? We pour so much of ourselves into our writing.

But I think it is important to have some separation. Maybe then, we won't feel as though we've compromised ourselves or our work. We'll actually see it as room to grow.

Christine Falcone has lots of room to grow. She spends most of her time trying to find the self-discipline to stick to some kind -- any kind! -- of writing schedule.

Is it ever okay to compromise your work?

  by Claudia Larson

At first I wrote a glib piece having to do with compromising positions and the multiple meanings of compromise, one of which had to do with encryption.

Then I wrote about determining values and the aching conflict occurring between two or more values, say truth and privacy, self expression and emotional safety.

Neither piece came fully to birth. They could have. One would have been entertaining. The other would have been deeply moving. I decided on neither. Did I compromise my work? No. Because I, Queen of my kingdom, determine what will be written and what will be brought to completion. Publishing is another story, for another time.

Claudia Larson still may finish those two pieces, while watching the rain in Sonoma County, California.


Compromises

  by Don Edgers

Back in the time when there were only 22 United States, half of the them had to be slave states. When Missouri wanted to join into the mix, the nonslave states had to come up with a state to balance things out. Massachusetts gave up some northern counties to form Maine. This became known as the Missouri Compromise.

This give and take is similar to compromises made between writers, editors and publishers a.k.a. as the W.E.P. Compromise.

I would imagine that most traditionally published writers have had to compromise part of their work in order to get it into print. Many authors have had to virtually rewrite some, or, in some cases, most of their book to satisfy an editor and publisher.

Recently, I talked to Curtis Roosevelt, author of Too Close To the Sun: Growing up in the shadow of my grandparents, Franklin and Eleanor, who told me he had to give up more than 75% of his original manuscript in order to get published. The publisher wanted a 300 page book which included photographs. Roosevelt had a 1,000 pages of words only.

In the book How I Got Published, virtually every author told of the compromises made for the sake of publication. The subtitle of the book might be - I compromised.

Back to the question, Is it ever okay to compromise your work? The adverb "ever" is defined as "at all times - always - invariably." Since we're talking about written compromises - writing to be published—YES! (Unless you're e.e. cummings or an avant-garde writer.)

Don Edgers writes in Port Orchard, WA.
His web site is www.anislandintime.com



Compromise?

  by Glanda Widger

What issues would actually cause me to compromise my work? Starvation is good, also homelessness or the desire to never see myself in print.

If I am in the position that I must accept compromising work into which I have poured hours of blood, sweat, tears and bleeding fingertips, I choose to consider that the word "compromise" is a noun. The explanation being that the noun version of the dreaded word is:(an intermediate state between conflicting opinions, reached by mutual concession). The publisher and I reach a mutual understanding. I do some of the rewrites and we are both moderately satisfied. Hence I see my work on the printed page of some nondescript but actually published periodical.

If I choose to view the word as a verb, the meaning changes to something totally unacceptable: (expediently accepting standards that are lower than desirable). Guilt would wrack my body accompanied by heart-wrenching sobs. I would view the desecration of my hours of toil as villainous, Snidely Whiplash violently rendering my well-chosen words asunder, ruthlessly attacking my beloved masterpiece so as to make it unrecognizable. There he is, twirling his handlebar mustache and grinning in evil glee while using white-out with wild abandon.

Could I live with that? No, absolutely not. Well, to be honest, it would depend on how many cans of potted meat I had consumed in the past week.


Glanda Widger's bio: Besides painting the living room for the fourth time this year and walking the dog at five in the morning in ten degree weather, Glanda enjoys poking fun at life. At her age there’s nothing much left to do.

Necessary Virtues

  by Kit Croucher

QUESTION: Is it ever okay to compromise my work?

ANSWER: Yes it is. One view of compromise is to make a virtue of necessity.

When it is necessary to spend less, to use less water, to live a more spare and useful life, I do so. Revised lifestyle and adaptation to economic realities is positive.

You can see this in my artwork: smaller canvases recycled paper, use of found objects and collaged materials. My writing is informed by my visual arts and the other way around. I return to short lines and brief statements about sharply focused subjects.

I don't think of changing my work—or my lifestyle—as a compromise. It's a new agreement with my conscience and my muse.

Kit Croucher, MA, BFA, is both a visual artist—mixed media paintings and sculpture—and a writer—creative non-fiction and poetry. She is most pleased when these two creative processes come together in artists books. She has earned grants and awards in her field. Kit also teaches art and leads workshops in Napa Valley.

The Ideal Compromise

  by Susan Bono

Is it ever okay to compromise your work?

In answer, a blast furnace in my chest scorches my throat with a fiery NO! A similar wave of withering heat causes me to turn away from my writing when I'm "not inspired" enough, and leave my home in shambles because I'm "too tired" to clean things up. It's what has me convinced I can't exercise or spend time with friends. I'm always "too busy" just now.

Me compromise? NEVER!! Better to turn off the alarm clock and go back to bed rather than take on any task under less than perfect conditions.

Unfortunately, the older I get, the more I am expected to compromise. If I sit too long at the computer, my right shoulder freezes; my eyes strain and ache if I try to read in dim light. I'm constantly choosing between my work and taking care of my parents, and as a result, nothing gets done. But I seem incapable of facing these problems with a cool head. Every time I find myself up against my limitations, frustration and indignation flare. These days, the flames threaten to consume me.

But lately I suspect this overheated state may be my soul's attempt at salvation. Somehow, I still haven't learned that no one has the kind of easy I long for. I can shed gallons of helpless tears over my plight, but that won't put the fire out. Since I seem determined to keep fighting reality, I may have to let this desire for perfection burn itself out.

Perfectionists never compromise, but idealists do.

Flame on, I say! Onward to compromise!


Susan Bono is tempted to soak her head in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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