Archive | August, 2010

Why You Should NEVER Compare Yourself.

30 Aug

(Part One of a three-part series.)

Comparison.

Today, we will take a completely one-sided look at it: why you should NEVER, EVER, EVER compare yourself with other writers. Ignore your instinct to think about the merits of comparison—I’m saving those for next time, when we take another completely one-sided look at the topic.  From the other side, naturally.

Last week, I compared comparison to a knife.  Going along with today’s one-sided perspective, we will look at the ways said knife can be absolutely useless, and even harmful.  Next time, we’ll look at how amazing and helpful a knife can be.

But not today.

Imagine you have a knife in your hand.  If you grip it by it’s handle, it can be helpful.  Forget helpful.  Imagine you’re holding it by the blade.

Holding it by the blade is dangerous at worst and useless at best.  The tighter you grip it, the more dangerous it becomes.  Like the knife, comparison can be a useful tool, but only if you know how to properly hold it.  The problem with comparison is that it’s all to easy to hold it by the blade, where it becomes useless.  Dangerous.  Painful, especially if you wrap your hand around it and cling so tight you bleed.

Here are things we cling to that have the potential to make us bleed:

There will always be someone WORSE.

This one’s tricky.  On the surface, it looks encouraging.  Surely I can’t be the worst person to ever try this, we think.  If THAT got published, my novel can, too. It’s too easy to take that and proceed with confidence.

Problem: it’s false confidence.  It’s a one-sided view that forgets that books on the shelf—any books on the shelf—are the product of much time and money, many stamps of approval.  That view ignores what books do right and looks only at what we perceive to be flaws.  All of this leads to the potential for deluded attitudes, which can lead to deluded writing.

In this sense, comparison is useless, because it does not challenge your work and it can lead to false confidence.  It can all too easily foster a well, it’s good enough! attitude, instead of a how good can it be? attitude.

There will always be someone BETTER.

Also true.  Very, very, very true.  It’s probably not too hard to see where this mindset can get dangerous.  We compare.  We despair.  We read something amazing, something mindblowing that resonates with us, and we think: that author is a superhuman genius and I can never be that good, ever, Ever, EVER, so I should just stop now and someone please pass me the trash can so I can forget I ever tried. Trash can. NOW!

Forget the years they spent developing their craft.  Forget the innumerable drafts that go into the finished product on the shelf.  Forget all the rejections it took for them to get there.  We want to be them, we want to be them NOW, except we kind of just want to be the easy published version of them who just magically whipped up a perfect book in no time.

That will depress anyone.

This kills your writing, and maybe even all the heart you’ve put into it, because it’s so dang depressing.  Like the thoughts about there’s always someone WORSE than me, it’s unbalanced.  Instead of only looking at the flaws, like we do when we perceive ourselves to be better than someone, we focus only on those areas where the superhuman geniuses succeed.  We forget that even superhuman geniuses put sweat and tears into their work.

So, what?

Don’t cling.  Not to the blade, anyway.  When you hold fast to the wrong things—only the flaws of some, only the raving successes of others—you’re likely to bleed.  Hold on to whole truth, not the skewed half-truths that so easily slip in under your skin.

After writing all this, it seems almost impossible that comparison can be helpful.  It can be, though.  Really.  Next time, we’ll look at the knife from the other unabashedly one-sided perspective: why you should TOTALLY compare yourself to other writers.

Comparison: The Writer’s Knife

26 Aug

And here we have an example of someone with a knife (and a gun, technically). You DO recognize him, right?

Just so you know, I was thisclose to naming this post “The Writer’s Villain.”

In a post about villains, I would have then blathered on about how all the best villains have something redeemable about them.  That the best villains are not what they seem to be at first glance, but are usually much worse than they seem to be.  And, though they’re definitely dastardly, there’s probably one tiny endearing thing that makes them sympathetic.  Benjamin Linus and his daddy issues.  Voldemort and his intensely human fear of death and desire for power.  The guy pictured above, who I will refrain from giving spoilers about.  Blah blah blah.  Blather, blather.

But I’m not writing about villains today.

I’m writing about comparison, and the knife seemed a more precise analogy.  Think about it: a knife can be both a source of life and death, power or pain.  It can be used to carve weapons, sharpen other knives, cut rope or string or fabric to make shelter or clothing, kill and prepare food. Just as it’s useful for killing food to eat, however, it’s able to kill a human.  It can cut, slice, puncture, and then there’s pain.  Death.

It’s all in how you hold it, and it’s all in how you use it.

Same with comparison.  I’ve been doing a lot of thinking this week about this.  Is it ever okay to compare yourself to other writers, or is that just a knife waiting to kill your work?  Or, is it a knife waiting to sharpen your work, carve it into something stronger, more powerful, better?  Or, is it neither—just a nagging weapon, a little too dangerous to touch and much better left to those who can handle it?

I think it’s all three.  Comparison can be useful to us as writers, but only if we know how to not let it kill us.

Over the next week or so, I’m going to write a miniseries about these things.  There will be three posts:

Why you should NEVER, EVER, EVER compare yourself to other writers,

Why you should TOTALLY compare yourself to other writers,

and

WHAT TO DO once you’ve not compared and compared yourself to other writers. (Turns out I may not write this one after all. The TOTALLY post covered it well enough, I think.)

No matter how hard we try to avoid it, the temptation to compare ourselves with others—both in writing and in life—isn’t going away any time soon.  We might as well learn how to wield it to our advantage.

And, PS: My qualifications for writing this look a lot like, “Girl compares herself.  Girl despairs.  Girl decides there’s value in the comparison.  Girl knows others have the tendency to compare themsleves, too, and maybe even despair—what she’s learning just might help someone else. Girl decides to throw opinions out there into Blogosphere. Girl proceeds to refer to herself as Girl, drink her coffee, and hope this miniseries sounds remotely helpful and/or interesting to someone other than merely herself.”

Back to Work.

19 Aug

After a weekend of being at places like this:

The whole family at my parents' ranch.

And this:

(My dad is good with green things.)

To do things like this:

She looks like me, but she's not me.

And this:

Why, yes, that IS my (hot) husband!

It’s been hard to do this:

But, never fear.  The pink pen, black pen, fuchsia highlighter, colored tabs, neon cards, tiny post-its and full-sized post-its have been put back to work again.  Progress is moving along quite well, thankyouforasking–I’m now 76.1% through this draft.

Which is also why this is mainly a picture post: I’m itching to get started on edits this morning.  Now that my energy has returned, I am SO taking advantage of it.  After the Schützenfest¹ (pictured above), I was TIRED.  Motivated, but without energy.  Tuesday was a little better, Wednesday was a lot better, and today?  Well, today might just be amazing.

But only if I get started.  And pour more coffee.

¹Schützenfest: (n.) An annual (starting this year) celebration completely made up by my adorable father, who decided the best way to bring the family together was to shoot things and give it an awesome, umlauted name.  It worked.  We had a target contest (complete with detailed Excel scoresheet made by my dad)(it runs in the family) and a skeet shoot², drank Shiner and ate amazing food, and stayed out in the sun all day.  Miraculously, I walked away with 6th place and a bullseye in the target contest (out of 12) and only got sun-scorched on my right side.

²Skeet shoot: where one person sends neon orange disks flying and you try to shoot them with a shotgun.  My husband rocked this.  I did the opposite of rocking it.

Anna and the French Kiss Giveaway Contest!

16 Aug

Also known as the post in which I shamelessly plug a book I’m SO looking forward to reading in an attempt to win an advanced copy.

Because I want it.  And you should, too.

Just last week, I blogged about the intense and inspiring revision process of author Stephanie Perkins.  So, how cool is it that I — and you — have a chance to win an advanced copy of that very novel, the result of all that devotion and discipline?  I was already looking forward to Anna and the French Kiss, but my anticipation totally quadrupled (and then the quadrupled anticipation quadrupled) after I read about the blood, sweat, and tears she put into it.

Click here to read Stephanie’s post about the contest.

Since this is a rarity on this blog (this being a shameless attempt to win something), that should tell you how much I’m looking forward to the book.  I promise to bombard you with such shameless attempts *only* in the most special of contests.

Like this one.

(Note: Saying nice things about Stephanie and her book are NOT part of the requirements to win the contest.  I merely had to post about it.  Thought it was worth mentioning that these are things I genuinely think-slash-feel, and they won’t give me any better chance at winning the book.)(Unfortunately.)

Au revoir for now!  (She says in a completely tainted-by-Texas, un-French-as-you-can-get accent.)

Info Dump City

13 Aug

This is what I do when I change one scene and it throws EVERYTHING off.

Okay, maybe not EVERYTHING.  But enough little things to matter.

(Click image to enlarge—apologies for the tiny font.)

This week, for example, I made a chart that looked pretty similar to this one.  All because the scene in question (Scene 1) was Info Dump City.  To fix its Info-Dumpness, I (brace yourselves for this, here) took out some of the info.  Some, I eliminated altogether.  Some, I transformed into tip-of-the-iceberg, tantalizing info that will make the reader go huh? instead of duh. (Hopefully.)  Some, I postponed.

What to do with all the info that a) needs to be followed up on, and b) needs to get in there at some other time?

That’s where the hard part comes in.  Actions and reactions, emotions, motivation—they’re all pretty much tied to each other.  So, when I change Info Dump City scenes, the next scenes tend to need tweaking, too.  S can’t freak out about something H said if H didn’t say it, right?  And he can’t make plans based on suspicions he doesn’t yet have.

So, this is what I do when I need to figure out a chunk of scenes.  Read and re-evaluate the whole chunk in question, decide what can be done to make it smooth.  Decide what needs to be added, cut, tweaked, or left as they are.  Not many get to remain as they are.

Not every chunk of scenes takes this much work (fortunately).  But, some do.  It’s nice to have a system in place for the times when I get to Info Dump City.  Systems are far preferable to freaking out.

This isn’t necessarily a do what I do post, it’s mainly just a this is what I do, and can you relate to it? post.  I’m curious about how you guys deal with figuring out problems in your work.  Do you go to the gym, think things over while you run?  In the shower, perhaps?  Do you have to think on paper/computer, with lists and notes?  Do you go in without a plan?  Are you a genius and you never have problems to fix, ever?

PS:  I made this in Excel with the Draw toolbar (specifically, the rectangle, arrow, symbols, and text box functions on the toolbar).  Everything you see here is pretty simple to make—the benefits of it are greater than the time spent making it.  You can easily click-and-drag the arrows and blocks, like you would do with physical index cards if you were rearranging them on a table.

Today:

11 Aug

Today, I will write a blog post, because I’m trying to post on a more regular schedule.

Today, I will plant myself in a chair and work.

Today, I plan to knock a major dent in these revisions.

Today, I would plant self in chair, work, and knock major dent into revisions even if I was purely trying to be disciplined.  Fortunately, today, I have enthusiasm and motivation to fuel my attempts at discipline.

Today, I will not spill my latte on my laptop and ruin it like I did that time during finals week my junior year of college.

Today, I will write tighter sentences than the one directly above this one.

Today, I will enjoy where I am in this process.  There’s always going to be someone way up ahead of me.  But I’m here.

Today, though, I reserve the right to not particularly enjoy where I am, physically.  This is due to unpredictable influxes of coffee shop roulette: it might be pure serenity, but there’s also the chance that it will be pure chaos and I’ll want to just smack someone.

Today, I will not smack anyone.

Today, I’ll work hard.

Tonight, I’ll work a bit more.  (Well, I’ll either work or read all the WriteOnCon stuff I missed from yesterday.)

And then, I’ll rest.

What are your goals for today?

Just Because it’s the Third Draft,

9 Aug

it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s almost finished.

Unfortunately and fortunately.

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of questions from friends and family.  When I say “a lot,” I really only mean “two, over and over again.”  The conversation goes a little like this:

“How far are you in your book?”

“Sixty-ish percent through the third draft, yay!”

“So—does that mean you’ll be done soon?”

(Pause for crickets to chirp while I think of how to explain that while I’m *much* closer to being done, I’m not sure exactly when ‘done’ will happen.)

“Hopefully the rest of this draft won’t take too much longer, but it will probably still need a bit of work after that.”

“Oh.”

As you might imagine, this has an interesting effect on me.  I’ve been working on this thing for a while, right?  And everyone knows it.  And I’m almost done with my third draft.  Third!  Not the first one, where I had no clue.  Not the second one, where I performed major MAJOR surgery on the manuscript.  The third draft, where things are finally, finally, finally starting to resemble something presentable!  That means I’m almost done, right?

Eh.

Not quite.  Not for sure, anyway.  After this draft, I plan to read it again and polish up a few things I may have missed before it goes into the hands of a few betas.  And then, depending on the feedback from my oh-so-helpful future betas (who will, I hope, be tactful and kind while being brutally honest), it may take a little work, or it may take a lot of work.  In which case I will complete said work and make it the best little manuscript I can write, send some intensely sincere thank you cards to my kind/brutal future betas, and mold it until it feels ready to send to agents.

I’m aware that it probably won’t ever be perfect.  That doesn’t mean I want to stop at merely good enough, though.

I was inspired to think these thoughts and write this post due to something I read over the weekend.  Stephanie Perkins, author of Anna and the French Kiss (December 2010), has an amazing post on her blog about just how many revisions Anna has been through.  It’s a lot, people.  Her attitude about it is pretty inspiring, and I encourage you to read the post¹.

It occurred to me: so many non-writer people ask when I’ll be done because they have no clue how much work goes into a novel.  I thought I had a clue.  This post, though, opened my eyes to exactly how much work a novel can demand.  Reading the perspective of someone who has lived it?  Was pretty much revelatory for me.  Just because it’s the third draft, doesn’t mean it’s anywhere close to the final product.

This can overwhelm me, or it can inspire me.

I’m choosing to be inspired, because I’d rather not feel overwhelmed.  Did I mention that everyone’s “When are you going to be done?”s have tempted me to rush the thing?  To churn it out because I’m thisclose to the end?  No, I don’t think I mentioned it.  But now I have, mainly to say I’m learning patience.  And follow-through.  To not rush, but to work steadily and with discipline, making sure everything is as good as it can possibly be.  Leaving it at good enough would be cheating myself and my manuscript.

Which is where my “unfortunately and fortunately” comment comes in.  Unfortunately, I may still have a long road on this novel.  Fortunately, I love my characters and the story.  Fortunately, I know that feedback from betas, and whatever subsequent revisions come out of that feedback, will only serve to improve the story.  That, after however many hours I put into it and however many lattes I drink in the process, the work will pay off.  It will be the best little manuscript it could possibly be, and how could I ever want it to be anything but that?

Unfortunately, it may take longer than expected.

Fortunately, it will be worth it.

¹The first half of the post is about the book itself, the last section (after the question in red text) is all about the many stages of revision that went into her novel.

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