Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Your Baby Is Ugly

This time last week, I was in the home stretch of the last book in a four-book series. (I actually do have to go back and do the second book now, but let's not dwell on this little detail, I'm already going to have 'Nam flashbacks by the time that damned thing is finished.) There were maybe about twenty thousand words left in the final and penultimate book. Every gun that I had set out on the mantle was either going off or getting a little asterisk drawn next to it so that I could go back and scrub it out as necessary, the themes were coming together, and I was inflicting carnage and property damage in the widest possible circle. That's usually my writing heaven.

I hate the damned thing. It's been eating my life for the past six months. (Longer than that if we're going to be perfectly honest, since I wrote the first book more than two years ago and the idea first blipped into my mind while I was still in high school.) At this point, all that I can see are the plot holes, the clunky places in the dialogue, the points where my heroine stops being compellingly cranky and just becomes Grade-A Unlikeable. I have three longhand pages of revision notes scrawled out already, and frankly I wanted to pitch the whole thing into the floor at several points before it was done. I was ready to call it a blessing that I only wasted six months on this nightmare rather than six years, or worse, that I didn't go entirely insane and release it to the public so that everyone could point and laugh at the flaws that are so obvious to me. Best to just cut my losses now.

With my finger hovering over the 'delete' key, I regained my senses to call Audrey first. (As a side note, that's a name that you're going to see a lot of if you follow this blog for any length of time. She's not only my best friend and Ideal Reader, she's the brilliant graphic designer, photographer, and all around amazing artist who will be doing at least three of my covers. If they come out fantastic, then it's all due to her genius. If they turn out crap, then it's because she tried to warn me about something and my stupid face wouldn't listen.) I told her that I hated every single word I had written and wanted to hurl it into the trash before anyone else realized the crimes that I had committed against the English language.

Audrey listened very carefully until I was finished, and then she told me two very important things. First, she threatened to kick my ass. This is not a threat to be tossed aside lightly. I've known Audrey for a long time, and she fights like a mongoose.

Disturbingly plausible threats of physical violence aside, though, Audrey had a further point. While I was busy assessing potential hiding places and wondering how much it would strain our friendship if I had to mace her, Audrey went on, "This is like being in the ninth month of pregnancy. You stop caring if it chews through its own umbilical cord so long as it gets out of you. Also, have you ever seen a newborn baby? They look like someone beat the hell out of a space alien before dipping it in grape jelly. You have to scrub at them before they're cute."

This drew me short. (Okay, this and Audrey reminding me that she knows what my car looks like and isn't afraid of breaking a few laws, so it's not likely that I could get very far even if I did try to run.) Most pieces of writing advice that I've seen warns you that at some point you're going to have to be a bad parent and start whacking the limbs off of your darlings so that they'll be pretty to other people rather than just to you. (One wonders how many children of authors wander across these How-Tos and wind up inadvertently scarred for life.) You have to be willing to toss aside all emotional attachment to your creation and start mutilating the hell out of it in the name of artistic integrity and modest profit.

This is undoubtedly good advice—later. Let it start creeping into your head too soon, though, and the joy falls out of the writing, leaving behind, gasp and horror, work. Now, I am ordinarily all for popping the balloon that is that "muse" nonsense. Writing is work. It's awesome work, and there is absolutely nothing else that I would rather be doing with my life, but it's still work. Treat it as such, commit to putting words on the page even when little fairies aren't sprinkling unicorn dander all over you, and eventually a book will be born.

But at the same time, you have to be willing to love your projects even for their flaws, 'cause God knows you're a lunatic if you're playing this gig for the money. I have about three weeks left before I'm finished with all the rough drafts in this series. I'm going to do my very best to disconnect my editor-brain, remember why I loved the idea in the first place, and just groove on it. If I'm not making money, I might as well be having fun.

Come fall, though, I'm going after those mofos with a scalpel.

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