Thursday, June 7, 2012

Get Me My Sword, The Fight is On!

Last week my daughter struggled with some new math problems. In trying to help her, I pulled out the math manipulatives, talked through a couple of strategies, and worked through some of the problems with her. For some reason, she didn't want to use any of them. She was frustrated but refused to take any of the simple advice I'd given. The homework session drew out three times as long as it needed to. When I ran out of ideas she got mad at me for not solving her problem. That's when I pointed out that she'd created the problem by not accepting the simple strategies and that she could have finished her homework quickly if she had. In the end, she got over her stubbornness and found taking the simple route worked best.

I couldn't help but think, from this situation, of times I'd been stubborn in regards to some simple point of writing, querying, or publishing. I also knew other writers who behaved exactly as my daughter did, by asking a question and then belligerently refusing to accept the answer. We all get that way sometimes. We don't want to switch the way we're climbing the mountain for another path, even if it's easier. We fixate on stupid, little things. We don't want to start over, rewrite, or change a bad habit.

Writing and publishing isn't a stagnate process, it requires growth and change. It's the journey that counts, right? We will encounter new ways of doing things since industry standards alter all the time. Digging in our heels and griping at other people won't solve anything. Blaming someone else for our petty vices only spouts hot air. For example: So we grew up with typing two spaces between sentences and now everyone's saying use only one. It takes less time to train yourself to the new model than it does to write a tirade about it.

A few years ago a beta reader pointed out a problem in one of my manuscripts. Critiques often sting but this particular piece of advice rankled for some reason. I thought he was daft in not recognizing and understanding all my carefully crafted clues (I know, unreasonable idiotic moment on my part.) I shrugged his comment off and continued with my revisions. The story later went through a couple of other beta readers, who pointed out other problems. In fixing those I found I needed to do a major reconstruct on the entire story and by so doing, realized that first beta reader's bothersome comment was actually brilliant. He had shown me the door to a major reconstruct I didn't know I needed until later. I wish now I had taken the time to really think about his comment before. I could have saved myself substantial time and trouble.

Despite all the advice to develop a tough skin and be professional, we writers are usually the opposite. We pout, take tantrums, cry, mock, brag, debate, laugh, and do crazy things. (The smart ones keep these reactions private.) Our first instinct is to pull up our defenses and charge at a supposed threat. We prance up on a huge black horse, armor spiky and shiny, countenance fierce, and in our loudest and scariest voice challenge the rock in our path. We can yell, stab, stomp, and threaten all we want, that rock isn't going away or changing shape.

When something hits us hard, step away from it. Calm down. Sleep on it. Take time to think about it from every angle. Instead of assuming someone’s out to get you, consider the possibility that they want to help you or that a particular method might work better. It may take hours or years to accept it. I’m not saying that all advice is right or that you need to do whatever anyone tells you to do. Don’t blow on your battle horn and try to mass raging hordes to your cause. Fickle creatures, those raging hordes. They’re more likely to raise an eyebrow and ask “What’s the big deal?” when you issue the call. Why? Because you’re declaring war on all uses of the word “was” OR Sans Serif vs. Times New Roman OR “I need twelve pages of backstory in the beginning of the manuscript so the reader understands where my heroine is coming from.” Petty vices.

What insignificant things have you gotten hung up on in the past or might be struggling with right now?


  1. Timely post with the marathon going on. It is hard to know sometimes what advice is golden and which is trash. I suppose if you hear the same thing over and over, believe it.

    Funny, but I did resist the one space after a sentence at first. Not that I ranted about it, but stubbornly clung might be closer to the truth. I still type them, but use find to eliminate them when a chapter is finished.

    1. I grew up with the two space rule, too, which is why I used it for an example. =)

      Sometimes it is hard to know which advice to take, like you said. I still struggle with it at times.

    2. Only one space now? I missed that one. Good thing I keep reading people's blogs and hang out on AQC.

  2. Sometimes, as writers, we have to learn things the hard way. Sometimes a critique has to sit in the back of our mind for weeks or months or years before we get it. Becoming a better writer is painful and sometimes we can only handle so much growth at a time. Too much and we get growing pains, have to slow down for awhile, until we are ready to handle it.

    I do my best not to argue with my critique partners because even if I think they are wrong now, I might change my mind later. Besides, opinions aren't "wrong". They are opinions and they wouldn't be true to themselves if they lied about these. Some will help the story and others are just preferences.

    And I can always rant to my boyfriend about it if need be later.

  3. Wait, ONE space between sentences? When did this happen? Noooo! *throws tantrum*

    That's actually something I've been dong on Twitter mostly to save on character usage, it'll be weird to do on a MS though. It's not one of those things agents will bash you over the head for is it? (I've still got MGs to query lol)

    In my earlier drafts of the current WIP I had a prologue that covered the capture & torture of the MC. When I first started posting queries for critique years ago on AQC a few people mentioned that I should get rid of the prologue. Some because they were totally anti-prologue and some because they'd actually read it and felt I could show that information throughout the book in backstory.

    I didn't see how I could possibly cover the horror of what happened to her in backstory mentions throughout the book, I felt like it would remove a large chunk of understanding if the reader couldn't see what happened between the two MCs. I mean, the whole concept is show don't tell and everyone said I had to get rid of my show!

    When I started the re-write January of this year I cut the prologue and gave it a shot. So far, I think it's working. The readers know she was tortured and they know who did it and they know she's terrified of him. They don't know exactly how each session transpired, but I guess it adds a bit of wonder to it, it allows them to use their imagination. Every so often I do get concerned though that none of this is believable because I cut that prologue. But I guess that's something my beta's will have to confirm or deny for me. :)

    I think the biggest problem I face when receiving feedback now, is knowing what to accept and make changes accordingly and what to ignore and follow my gut on. If I accept everything I feel like I'm just following everyone else's opinion (which is damn near impossible if there are conflicting opinions). If I ignore anything there's that nag in the back of my head of, what if they're right?

    1. It is difficult sometimes. It's always nice when more than one person points out the same thing. When you get a solo opinion it becomes the writer's call. I've rejected a handful of suggested changes because they were obviously subjective to that particular reader.

      For instance, I have a character that is squeamish and I modeled one of her reactions after something I do when I get squeamish. Someone jumped on it and said no one would ever react that way. I just smiled and kept it in. It was based on true fact, even if it's a bit weird. And since this character being squeamish is important to her inner journey, I want it to stand out anyway.

      Other times people have made suggestions I may have not wanted to take but did because I knew it would make the manuscript better or clearer.