Please welcome guest blogger EJ KOH to the blog today!
Writing More Like Beyoncé
by EJ KOH
Beyoncé slaps one thigh and grooves to the ‘End of Time’ in her Revel performance. Her back dancers wear rainbow-colored spandex and different facials: angry, ecstatic, cool. Then Beyoncé misses a count, headbangs a little too long, and falls 1.3 seconds slower than her dancers – she’s off. But she doesn’t look messy; she looks real. From then on, I believe her and the words she sings.
Around my thirtieth draft, I started to wonder if my novel Red was real anymore. There’s an immediacy to Beyoncé’s shows. They feel recently made because they are. And I imagine the lightning process gives her a thrill. Even with all the sound and lights, I catch a glimpse of her when she stumbles – of who she is in the practice room.
One time, I met an author at a writer’s conference. He had tabbed the pages of his novel. When I asked why, he said, “I memorized all the mistakes in my book.” My first thought: Why would he carry his book around like a lesson? He turned his novel into background music and put his typos center stage. I wanted to tell him: Stumbling can be amazing.
But while writing Red, I felt like he did. I believed that I prepared my novel for battle against the critics. I was chopping and reconfiguring passages, losing sight of what I was writing. I was forgetting the sublime and ecstatic moments of falling 1.3 seconds short. So I did something drastic: I stopped editing when I felt like it. It was risky but I couldn’t stand clinically dissecting my work with editors. I wasn’t interested in ready-for-critics, I was interested in ready-for-readers. Now, I’ll be headbanging like Beyoncé has never seen.
EJ KOH is a poet and an author. Her work has been published in TriQuarterly, Southeast Review, The Journal, La Petite Zine, Susquehanna Review, Gulf Stream, and elsewhere. She is a poetry finalist of the Ina Coolbrith Memorial Prize and is currently completing her Masters of Fine Arts at Columbia University. She blogs at thisisEJKoh.com. Red is her first novel.