Do I Look Like I Know What I’m Doing??????

When I was first published and still living in the hazy, warm dream of having a book out there, on book store shelves and in libraries, many of my friends told me that they had always wanted to write a book. They then proceeded to tell me at length about whatever it was. I am crap at synopsizing myself but let me tell you, there is nothing so boring as to listen to someone droning on about something big and amorphic that exists purely in the brain and not on paper where the lapses and faults would become hugely apparent. In instances like that I just pasted a grin on my face and tried to ignore the twinges of annoyance, and the suspicion that most people who don’t actually write, think it’s an easy thing to do.
You know, “I think I’ll just dash off a novella in between laundry loads.”
A few months after my book’s release, a friend asked me to read her picture book text. It was intended for 5-year olds but she’d used language that was too mature, and the story itself was overly-complicated and confusing. I gave her my opinion prefaced by some positive and constructive comments. She didn’t take it as well as I had hoped and refused to mention it again. I worried that I had destroyed her dream.
Another friend who was writing memoir asked me to read her first two chapters. I did and offered a couple of suggestions including the merit of joining a critique group. I offered my opinion that writing memoir is great for sharpening writing skills and is often cathartic but that unless your life has been incredibly ghastly and eventful or you are famous, no one besides immediate family will be interested in reading about it. She wanted to be published. On being pushed I suggested short fiction, maybe. It’s difficult to give my opinion because that’s all it is. Mine. And I hate being asked for it and then having my words dismissed, because they were not the words my friend wanted to hear.
Nor am I any kind of expert in any case. I am better at plotting and recognizing my weaknesses now, but writing is a grueling affair for me. I struggle with it and I lose my way constantly but I also know that I will eventually get better with practice.
I recently had yet another friend, a woman whom I love and admire, send me her mystery manuscript. It was hard for me to come up with even one positive thing to say about it. A strange mix of cooking and hard-boiled detective (Hey! hard-boiled egg, hard-boiled crime- a new genre!) and it was rife with all the usual weaknesses contained in a first draft. I recognized them without trouble because they are usually present in my own first drafts, which is the main reason why my Beta readers only ever see third and fourth drafts. Maybe what practice and working with critique groups, my agent, and editors has taught me is how to look at a draft and recognize the bad spots. See where the messes are, what needs to be cleaned-up. But no one really wants to hear about that. Instead they want their first attempts to be recognized as genius. This is the great myth about writers and writing. That what spews from brain to our pens is fragrant poetry rather than fragrant @*^@.
I’ve been wrestling with the second chapter in my current WIP, trying to move on but coming back to it worriedly. Today I realized that most of it needs to be removed and placed elsewhere. A lot of it probably must be discarded. It is such a relief to know that I can just take it out- this great tangled mess of sub-plot-and what remains can move again at the right pace.
I have no idea what I’m doing but I persevere.
My new response when I am asked to read something is “sorry but I am entangled in my own WIP and simply don’t have the time.” No wounded feelings and no guilt for me.
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2 Responses to Do I Look Like I Know What I’m Doing??????

  1. doug says:

    I hear you. I’ve had many experiences of people wanting me to show them how to play guitar, but they are disappointed to find out in takes effort and practice and invariably drop it. File your experiences under “no good deed goes unpunished”

  2. Jo says:

    But it looks so easy, Doug. Just some strumming and pressing down the strings, right?