writing

The Dispersion Factor

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No one is an endless fount of pithy comments, scintillating ideas, and inventive ways of expressing them.

It’s a scary thought that we’re not.

I once read a story about a little girl who talked too much. Somewhere along the line she was warned that each of us has a finite number of words to spend. When you reach the end…that’s it. No more. Silence. If she squandered her stock of words, she’d be left to finish her life in wordless isolation.

If that’s true, it becomes imperative that you spend your words wisely. Choose them with care. Focus them toward your goal.

But that’s hard to do in these times when writers are told to keep a public profile. To blog and tweet. To maintain a constant presence via tumblr, facebook, instagram, ask.fm, and a host of other venues.

I understand. I really do. But all the time and energy invested in those adjuncts to a writer’s ‘real’ work have a draining effect. You’re taking a big, ol’ handful of your limited supply of words and tossing them into the wind. Instead of focusing them, aiming them at a target where they might find a lasting home, you’re dispersing them to fall at random. In random patterns. On random ears. Before random eyes.

Wasted words? Or are they dispersing like dandelion seeds; their purpose being to find new ground where they can take root?

Hard to say.

Only time will tell if they’re flourishing elsewhere, or simply gone; victims of the wind.

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writing

The Description Duality

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I am a bona fide description junkie.

Can’t get enough.

I dive into pages of language paying homage to the precise angles of parquetry; the multi-hues of honeyed sunshine pouring through jewel-toned panes of leaded glass; the wealth of colors and textures in a garden lush with twining, scented blooms.

These things make my toes curl. As long as they’re about environment. As long as they allow my imagination to follow their path and build, layer upon layer, a space of some sort. But pay that much attention to describing characters and you’ve lost me.

It’s the difference between world-building and backstory.

To me it’s the difference between being a participant or an observer.

Once again the concept of show vs. tell rears its quixotic head. Show me a place I can inhabit as a reader and I welcome infinite detail. Use that same level of description to paint a character and I’ll wonder why I should be interested in this passive creature who wavers into view via words instead of his own actions, or feelings, or thoughts.

As a reader, I know what I like; able to scan a dust-cover or blurb and instantly discard or covet.

As a writer, I fall into the trap, carried away on the tide of my own creation.

It’s difficult to read your own work without making the unforgivable mistake of falling in love with it to the extent that you’re blinded to its faults. That’s why everyone tells you to lay the story aside for a few weeks, months, years even. However, if you don’t have that luxury, if a deadline looms…you have to develop the skill of being able to split from your work.

Because the only way your opinion of your own work counts, is if you can confront it as a reader plain and honest.

No patting yourself on the back for a particular turn of phrase.

No thinking cleverness can disguise a lack of heart.

It’s hard. I’m not sure if anyone can do it consistently. But it’s the only way to know if your backstory is as enticing as your world-building. And for those of us who are unusually description-susceptible, it’s a necessary sort of schizophrenia.

Otherwise, we’d sink beneath the surface, sucked into the creation that will never be anything but a playground for one.

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writing

The Relative Levels of Rejection, Part III

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We all know the form rejection is a necessary evil.

It’s impossible for an agent or editor who fields submissions numbering in the hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, to give each one a thoughtful, individual response. Hence, the form.

But the form is a widely varied species that includes some real standouts. One is the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me rejection. It’s the equivalent of your date saying he had an ‘interesting’ evening. Not a good-night kiss. Rather, the kiss of death. You feel as though you’re being dumped at the front door after a disastrous outing. You appreciate the intention to let you down easy, but the grain of truth that wants to irritate itself into a lump, like sand in an oyster, tells you it’s NOT them. It’s definitely you.

“You create wonderful worlds. Your writing is very atmospheric. But we’re not sure how to market you…”

Yeah, well…I’m pretty sure if the work was really outstanding, they’d find a way to market it. The truth is, it’s not a matter of how to market; it’s a matter of no market. Time to step back and consider some major rewrites.

Still, there are some very nice variations on the It’s-Not-You-It’s-Me that, in my opinion, make them the Miss Popularities of the reject pageant.

“This doesn’t quite fit with us, but you show great potential.”

In other words…back to the drawing board. If this particular submission had real potential, you’d have been asked to rewrite and resubmit. But it’s a nice rejection, and, depending on your frame of mind, you can actually savor it a little, telling yourself you’re an undiscovered talent. You just need some more time to grow.

But my absolute, hands-down, scream-from-the-rooftops fave rejection of all time is the short, sweet “This isn’t right for us, but we’d be interested to see anything else you have.”

That makes it all worthwhile. It’s not acceptance. It’s still a rejection. But it offers that one ingredient without which a writer cannot continue to shout his words into the void in solitary defiance of the odds. It dangles that little thing that has the power to change your view of the world and your place in it. It can make you forge ahead with renewed vigor and determination.

It’s hope.

And it’s beautiful.

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Down the Rabbit Hole: Embracing the Slow Edit

You did it! You did it!

You pulled the story out of yourself for however many weeks, months, or years it took, and now it stretches before you in its entirety. No longer confined to the imaginative terrain between the walls of your skull; rather, a new-formed entity ready to suck air into its lungs and squall forth a noise that will attract readers to its existence, enticing them to be amazed.

But…no.

Not yet.

You know it needs a little more work.

So you do what you consider ‘editing.’ You kick the typos to the curb and smooth the rough spots so no one will stumble over them. It’s a quick, triumphant jaunt through your creation, reinforcing your belief in its value, fanning to feverish pitch your eager anticipation of a glorious reception by agents.

But just as your mind is ready to break free and begin considering the perfect accompanying query, you realize there’s something else out there. You can hear it approaching, crashing its way through bracken and furze. It’s trudging toward you with the geriatric gait of an arthritic sloth. It’s so close you can feel it sapping all that energy geared toward spewing your manuscript out into agent-world.

It’s here.

It’s the Slow Edit.

You could evade it. It is possible to dodge its plodding presence and speed off into the distance. But the little, niggling voice that never lies tells you if you do, you’ll be speeding off all by your lonesome, ending up in that wasteland where agents never go.

They will know if you haven’t honored the Slow Edit, bending your knee and lowering your head before its ponderous girth.

Just do it.

Put on the brakes.

Settle in for the long haul and…

…before you know it, you’ll be down the rabbit hole.

You will study each word, each sentence. You will debate syntax, placement, order. Your brain will delve into a lifetime’s accumulation of vocabulary, searching for just the right nuance, savor, syllable. It will take multiple sessions to wade through your story, because your brain will be overwhelmed after several hours of unremitting effort. It will offer up optional wording with thesauric profusion, making it impossible to identify the best choice. It will begin to invent words like ‘thesauric.’

You’ll have to take a break, regroup, and tackle the beast when your literary awareness has regained its elasticity. Again. And again.

But in the end you’ll have a tale that doesn’t splay itself out before the reader, offering up its entrails in the hope that someone will find it salvageable. You’ll have a streamlined bullet-to-the-brain, can’t-stop-reading-it work.

Thanks to that ugly, paunchy, unwelcome creature. The Slow Edit.

All done? Feel better? Recognize the worth? Glad you did it?

Good.

Now, go back to the beginning and do it again.

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