January 18, 2013

Beluga By Beluga

This post title brought to you by flipping massive revisions and by the craft book Bird by Bird (by Anne Lamott). But if we're talking about tackling a writing project piece by piece, my WIP issues feel more like belugas than birds. Just sayin'... I'm not quite finished my read of this insightful, funny, and informative book, but I'll share my thoughts on what I've read thus far. (While I eat ooey gooey freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and try not to smear chocolate on my keyboard keys. Yum!)*

Jess over at Reading on the F Train suggested sometime back that we should read and post about Bird by Bird. I'm taking on the first half of the book and she will be wrapping up the latter half at the end of the month. If you would like to join us, feel free to email Jess with a link to your post. Since I have too much to say in one post, I'm going to cover some things today and post again another day.

Drafting and Unabashed Suckitude
I think perhaps the biggest thing I've gotten from this book so far is the challenge to buck perfectionism and embrace the "shitty first draft". (Henceforth referred to as SFD so I don't have to keep typing such an "excrementitious"** word.) For as long as I can remember, I've tended toward perfectionism, which stinks when you're writing to get published. I'm not sure I could write a truly SFD even if I wanted to. Maybe if I was to pry my delete button off my keyboard, but I'm not sure that's a good idea. I revise as I go, and that seems to work for me. But I wonder if it would be less stressful getting that initial story plunked out if I just ignored the urge to polish and prettify my WIP as I write it. It's okay for it to suck. It's supposed to suck.
"All good writers write [SFDs]. This is how they end up with good second drafts and terrific third drafts."

More On (Moron?) Perfectionism
On the issue of perfectionism, Lamott mentions a friend's suggestion to "learn to keep yourself company", to basically treat yourself a little better. You wouldn't tell a CP, "This sucks monkey spleen. Fix it now."*** Instead, you'd probably offer them a really well-crafted compliment sandwich: "This part is really great. Have you thought about doing this? Oh, and this part is fantastic!" So why do we become our very own personal Regina George? (Thanks, Rebecca, for this comparison. It's totally fetch.) Treat yourself like you'd treat your CP.

Eureka Moments and the Crud Leading to Them
Lamott touched on something that was both interesting and very, very true. She talks about sitting down to write and rereading what she wrote the day before. (I totally do this to get in the right frame of mind to write.) There will be a pile of 'meh' sentences—paragraphs even—limping along pathetically until they reach one golden nugget that basically breathes life into the whole story. This is what we were going for, what we wanted our story to be. While everything leading up to this stroke of brilliance seems like a waste, it really isn't. We needed all of it to show us what we really wanted to write. Like the yellow brick road leading to the Emerald City.

Gagging the "Drunken Monkeys"
The process of writing is often fraught with just as many rock bottom lows as over the moon highs. We sit down to write and find ourselves plagued by self-doubt—"banshees and drunken monkeys" as Lamott calls them. But we persevere, managing to ignore those voices and write something. And it might totally suck (as SFDs are wont to do), but we do the work and eventually that SFD will suck a little less. It's never going to be easy, but that's what makes finishing so darn satisfying.
"Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do—the actual act of writing—turns out to be the best part. It's like discovering that while you thought you needed the tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward." 
To be continued another day...


* I just felt like rubbing that in because I'm cruel like that.
** Her word, not mine. Though, I think I might adopt it.
*** If you do, maybe you should retire from CPing. O__O

15 comments:

  1. Bah, definitely belugas instead of birds (although ostriches are pretty big, and kinda mean and scary so that might work) The whole revising as you go thing must run in the family, because, as you know, I'm the same way. Can't resist tinkering or finding just the right word before moving on. Maybe that's weird and maybe my first drafts still suck, but it seems to work. I'm just finishing up Bird by Bird this evening and I've found it to be a really helpful and surprisingly enjoyable read.

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    1. So Ostrich by Ostrich it is. :P I really have a hard time leaving something that I know is crappy and just continuing writing. Though, I do tend to move on for that day and revisit these irksome spots the next day when I reread what I wrote. So I guess I kind of do a hybrid of tinkering and moving on. I like to use placeholder words and just change the font colour to red so that I know to come back and pick a better word. It's a process that's kind of evolving as I go. :)

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  2. I read something recently (can't remember where) about the SFD being misinterpreted. Boy, did that strike fear in my heart! I feel like sometimes I do let the concept allow me to cut first-draft corners (bad), but at the same time it enables me to shut up the self-doubt banshees (good). The advice in BIRD BY BIRD sometimes feels like a writer's lifeline.
    Hope your revisions are going well!

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    1. I suppose there's something to be said for balance between writing an SFD and trying not to leave a total mess. Sort of a Semi-SFD. I revise as I go, but during a writing session, I'll often put placeholder words or ideas in to revisit the next day or at an even later date. So I guess I do something like a Semi-SFD.

      Revisions are going alright. They're not as bad or as daunting as I thought they were going to be, so that's good. Now on to my query letter rewrite. O__O

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  3. I bought this book this past Wed ... will start reading asap so I can participate!

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    1. It's actually a very quick and light read. The only reason it's taking me so long to read it is because I keep stopping so I can underline things that speak to me. Also, I've been distracting myself with other things. (Bad Jaime) But it's definitely a worthwhile read. :)

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  4. First, this post is so full of awesome. I must get this book because I am the queen of SFDs (totally stealing, thank you). Second, I LOVE Mean Girls and the references made me SMILE. Also, on that, I have a student who tells me everyday that I am so FETCH. Love her, btw. Third, I love the comparisons in the book - especially the yellow brick road to the emerald city. Did I mention I must get this book? Amazon's the next stop. Thanks for this!

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    1. Thanks, Alison! (Though, the Emerald City part was my addition.) This book has so many good things to say, and a lot of it really spoke to me. I hope you enjoy it too! :)

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  5. I've read a couple of craft books this year already (one being the traditional ON WRITING re-read), and I'm starting to come to the conclusion that eventually, all craft books say the same thing, just in different ways. What you need to do is not find the craft book that tells you something you won't find anywhere else, but to find the craft book(s) that speak to you. Interestingly, as much as I've touted King's book, this time around it really spoke to me in a way it hadn't before. I think doing NaNo this past November gave me a different perspective on the way I work which really seems to fit King's view of writing.

    Anyway, I'm glad this book spoke to you. I'll keep it in mind for when I next feel I need to read a different perspective on writing. :)

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    1. The only craft book that I've read from cover to cover is ON WRITING, so I figured I was due for another. I also have SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS, but I haven't gotten a chance to sit down with it just yet. I think you're right about a lot of them having similar things to say, but sometimes we just need to be reminded of those things, or have it spun in a different way. I'm finding it helpful and enjoyable. :)

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  6. A lot of these are things that jumped out to me as well. I think I may be a weird writer in that I don't have a lot of trouble getting into SFD mode, but I definitely hear the voices reminding me exactly how "S" it is! And the crud-->Eureka process is my favorite part of the book so far!

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    1. I don't think you're a weird writer. I think your way of writing is more normal. In fact, I think there are a number of people who write a very bare bones, nakedy skeleton first draft, and the bulk of the work they do is in adding the meat. As for the voices, I have those from the moment I start right up until I've completed most of my revisions. But then there are those moments when I feel pretty good about what I've written, and that makes it all worthwhile. I'm sure you have those moments too. :)

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  7. I haven´t started reading the book yet (my revisions are pretty much taking my entire free time and I´m reading SHADES OF EARTH at the moment...:P) but based on your thoughts on it so far I´m going to love it!

    Those reminders are so true...I mean thanks to you, ONE TWO THREE was in a much better shape it would have been if we didn´t swap chapters as I wrote it! Of course revisions were still needed, especially on the big picture (thanks to your tips among others :D) and I really need to remember that everything that lead to that new opening, to that new strength in my writing comes from all the work before!

    Thanks for sharing!!!

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  8. Okay, now I *definitely* need to read this book. I think I needed to hear basically everything in this blog post. :)

    Maybe not the part about the freshly baked cookies. *glares* Though I was already thinking about making some myself tonight... Hmmm revision and cookies is always a good combination, right?

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  9. I am so buying this book.

    And watching Mean Girls again.

    And, in lieu of fresh from the oven cookies, eating some Hershey's kisses.

    :)

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