Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Emotionally a 2 year old. Professionally? Hopefully close to my age.

It is possible I was not very mature when a certain part of my writing was critiqued Monday in an e-mail. It’s even possible the message had been delivered to me in a kinder manner, the week before, and I over looked the message.

But when the message did arrive? The manifestation of my outward reaction was scathing comments to co-workers and friends. My internal reaction was, “If that’s what she wants, THAT’s what she’ll get!”

As I went through the piece, clear cutting almost all of the content, I left behind sarcastic, biting, tags too.

“Great F’ing idea Josiah! Design something that kills fish, why don't you?”

“So what the hell do YOU know about flooding Josiah?”

“Really Josiah! You made a mistake. You can see the mistake. Get over yourself and admit the mistake.”

“What makes you think YOU have anything to say, Josiah?”

Which served two purposes. As I tried to rewrite the passages I kept those questions in mind. Why did he design this thing? Where DID his knowledge come from? Why can’t he admit to the mistake?

But secondarily, as I tried to rework each paragraph, those questions made me laugh. Partly because I wrote them in BOLD, and BLOOD RED. Party, because I’d get into the swing of the narrative and then run into, a comment like, “You made a mistake, get over yourself,” being said by a 50 year old lawyer during the California Gold Rush. Somehow, I knew he’d NEVER utter those words, or at least that way.

When I met with the instructor, I’d pretty much exorcised all my venom on coworkers and unsuspecting acquaintances, via snarky e-mails or comments. Which is where I wanted to be emotionally, drained of those surging feelings.

So many times I’ve read authors, or heard them talk, about their encounters with editors. How they fought mightily over a point of plot, a characters motivation, or a setting – and I’ve always thought to myself, “Isn’t that the editors job? To make it the best POSSIBLE story? To know what will appeal to the public and what won’t? Isn’t their success and income based on how well they perform? If it were me, I think I’d shut up and do what’s asked.”

Of course, that is very easy to say – when you’re on the reading end of the words. When you’re on the writing end, it's not quiet so easy. It’s 1,000 times more difficult when you’re on the creation end. I mean, really! How much ownership and pride can you take is writing the best User Manual ever? Sure – you can think you did a great job. But really, is your sense-of-self offended if the editor says, “I’d use the word, ‘select’ here, instead of ‘click’”? No. Or at least “no” if you’re not a control freak. But when you create something from scratch ... someone, a place, and a story from nothing, not even flour and water, there's a different feeling of ownership.

As I sat down to do my "radical rewrite" of what she called a “meaningless” story, I tried to bury my anger and focus on giving her what she wanted. BECAUSE … after all, she has 3 published books. If you don’t count my one semester of newspaper as a Sophomore in High School, I have NOTHING published.

When I walked into the meeting (which I explained to my boss was a Parent/Teacher Conference because I'd been misbehaving), she reviewed the 3 chapters. The first rewrite of the one she thought wasn’t telling the right story; the first draft of the chapter preceding that chapter; and then the chapter SHE wanted me to write.

Of the first piece she said, “You’ve done a great job of fixing the problems that were noted in the critique. I can see you worked hard on this. This is a MUCH better chapter.”

On the first draft of the new chapter, she stopped several times to exclaim over certain phrases or images. “This is very good. I think you’re right. This is an important piece of the story. I like how you did 'this' and 'this'.”

Then she read the “RADICAL REWRITE”. “Oh Mit. This is it! This is exactly what I was talking about. I like this. It has tension. It’s tight. It brings me in close.”

And so, I learned an important lesson. Or maybe it was a lesson confirmed. LISTEN to the advice. Get rid of your ego, and do what’s suggested. You’re only out time and effort. And who knows, maybe "they" were right and you were wrong. (heh, I wonder where Josiah gets THAT character trait from?)

So – to all of you who had to endure my two-year old rage yesterday, I’m sorry. Thanks for reading the verbal assaults. Thanks for enduring the snide commentary. Hopefully I’ll learn how to be more mature about my emotions AND my writing.


Christopher Paquette said...

great post.... good lesson for all.

Christopher Paquette said...