Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Unsolicited Advice--Part Two: Spock

Status:  Cooked breakfast for the loveliest couple—and had to break out my French. Why should I travel to Europe when Europe will simply come to me?

When I was younger, I spent approximately three years writing DSS (which does not stand for Dumb Stupid Story), and like I said before, it was chock full of tiresome clichés, overworked metaphors, and loads of pretentious foppery. Of course, during that time, I spent hours poring over writing advice and editing advice, and I loved learning about what I hoped would one day become my job. But my research hardly made an ounce of difference. All those well-meaning words—they passed through me like souls on their way to the other world.

I did tell myself that I wanted to make my book as good as possible—my problem was that I didn’t see any faults to begin with. How could I perfect something that was already perfect? My maternal feelings crushed my inner editor. When I got feedback, I invariably disagreed. Every line struck through one of my beautiful sentences was hateful, written by someone with little literary taste and questionable parentage. How could a mere reader know anything of writing and art? Believe you me, Spock would not have approved. (And yes, I realize he’s not a real person. There’s no need to rub it in.)

For those of you who aren’t Trekkies (for shame), Spock is Vulcan—a race known for its logic. He sees everything as black and white, and is not prone to sentimental human error. Why does this matter? you must surely be asking by now, as you slide your cursor toward the exit button. What on earth does this have to do with writing?

Well, I’m getting there.

After I realized DSS was going nowhere fast, I decided to take a temporary hiatus from fantasy and revive an old science fiction flame that had been brewing in my mind since birth (or something like that). In the space of a single, highly-caffeinated NaNoWriMo, I wrote TIB (and no, it does not stand for The Interesting Book). It clocked in at 160,060 words, and it was both ungainly and imprecise, much like this sentence. At that point, I had two choices:  I could go ahead and edit—polish the sentences without touching the structure—or I could gut the unseemly creature then and there. For such an obvious decision, it was surprisingly difficult.

In order to progress, I had to sit down and write a list, which I will share in modified form because I love lists.


1)      My dearest Lizzie, if you are not pleased with the bulk of your work, even after preliminary edits, maybe there’s a reason why. Never pass up on the chance to doubt yourself.

2)      My dearest Lizzie, this isn’t the time to be lazy—hard work now means less work later. (Yes, I’m just full of pithy quotes.)

3)      My dearest Lizzie, cultivate a logical viewpoint, like Spock. Recognize your story’s weaknesses, but don’t be overwhelmed by them. It doesn’t matter how much you’re in love with a given scene—if it doesn’t add any value, then it has to go. To borrow a Spockism, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”


I know it’s hard—it’s wicked hard to take criticism, to find fault with your work, to look at your best and realize it isn’t good enough. (All aspiring writers should have their heads checked—we are undoubtedly insane.) Under all the pressure—under all the strain of destroying my darling—I almost snapped. I almost cut my losses and moved on. But what helped me was a child’s game. I slipped out of the role of proud author and into the role of Spock. I played pretend. Hewing my manuscript down to size became a game (which makes me sound a lot more violent than I actually am). Now, I’m not recommending a total break from reality—but swapping my viewpoint with another for that brief space of time was the best choice I could have possibly made. Sure, my sentimental side screamed in agony…until I stuffed her face with chocolate. And my distractible side was ready to write something newer and shinier. All in all, though, holding the nine-millionth draft of my manuscript—after seemingly endless bouts of searching for those nasty little typos that go around adding themselves when I’m not looking—was well worth the agony. And now, my mind to your mind, my thoughts to your thoughts. 

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