Thursday, September 1, 2011

When Your Writing is Like Bad Roast Beef

There are a few schools of thought when it comes to editing your own work. There are those who print out their latest draft, settle into their comfy spot and read for the sheer joy of reading. There are those who don't ever print their work because they read and edit exclusively on screen. There are some who spend an inordinate amount of time over each sentence, reading and rewriting until perfection is achieved. I'm not any of these.

I never stop editing. For me, a piece is never done, I just run out of time and it's good enough. I don't suggest this is an ideal for everyone. For example, I know far too many writers who don't edit a damn thing for one reason or another. I admire them, and it annoys me. It always has. Back in school I would have to study for hours to maybe eke out a B while another seemingly oblivious student would have an aw crap moment and finish their assignment in the hall on the way to class and earn an A. Remarkable, though my remarks were not always vocal or supportive.

When editing my own manuscript I like to expect that the warm copy I pick up from the local printer will be an enjoyable read. But I immediately spot things. Yes, grammatical things and typos, which annoy me, but I've learned to forgive myself and move on. It's the plot questions, or the character development, or the pace or some other major thing that throws me into a funk.

That's where I am on Chapter 12 of Three Blinks and a Sigh. I can't get past the first paragraphs. Chapter 11 is good, and Chapter 13 makes sense, but Chapter 12 sucks and it's disappointing. It's like bad roast beef stuck between the most savory bread you can imagine. You've been there. You're craving a roast beef sandwich for days and you finally get one only to discover the meat is overcooked, shiny and a weird color. It's doesn't even smell good and the things you craved now ruins your appetite. That's my Chapter 12 and I find myself just staring at it with disgust.

So how do you combat a lousy chapter? Skip it.

I recall a high school english teacher who presented a very freeing concept to me. He said when you're working on an early draft and you can't come up with the right word or phrase, don't struggle over it. Instead, draw a blank line and keep going. You can come back to it later. What sweet liberation! If that can apply to a word or phrase, why not a sentence or a paragraph or a whole frigging chapter?

It can. It should.

I've been staring at this disappointing sandwich on my plate for four days and I'm still starving. Don't be like that in your writing. Your writing needs to compel others and keep you moving. If you come across a section that stops you in your tracks, make note of why in the margins. Star it with a big *Needs Work* and move on. Don't sit there and bemoan it. Keep moving forward.

Words are like money, they are a renewable resource. Given the right skills you can create more. So don't let a bad investment (or chapter) hold you back. Keep producing. Keep moving forward. In the distance of a few pages you'll get some perspective and will determine your next course of action. You might be struck with an idea to rewrite it, or perhaps you'll cut it completely, or maybe the key content will dissolve from that chapter and reemerge into others where they make better sense or provide greater power and clarity.

Don't let your own writing delay you from getting something written.