When Last We Met…

Yesterday we had another rollicking meeting of the Magic City Writers Group. I had submitted my first chapter, The Wizard’s Spells…, again for what I hoped would be a final editing pass. I had mentioned before that I had asked the group if they thought it needed another pass, and I summarized their response then as:

The consensus was that while chapter one was much improved it still required one more editing effort by the group. But just one more. A final review to clean up the flotsam and jetsam still floating around in the text. We didn’t discuss the details of what was wrong, just that it still has issues. I want to avoid infinitely editing this chapter, but I cannot ignore warnings from the group. I shall resubmit chapter one when my turn rolls around again.

I had believed when the meeting began that the session would be short, a couple of hours at most. After all, this was the third time we had gone over this chapter. How much more was left to be said?

Four-and-a-half hours later I staggered away from the table bloody, bruised, and beaten; a broken man, a shell of my former self. I exaggerate, but the point remains that the session was longer and more grueling than I had been prepared for.

I expected people to point out awkward sentences, poor word choices, and other syntactic fluff. By “syntactic fluff” I do not mean these problems are not important to address, merely that they are correctable by a better choice of single words or altering a sentence or two. I.e. The solution is relatively easy to discover and can be quickly implemented.

In addition to points about syntactic fluff, however, there were also protracted debates about some of the underlying structure. Problems that cannot be solved by changing a word or sentence or even a paragraph, but could require another rewrite of whole scenes. Worse yet, embedded in the areas that have structural issues are elements I either really want to retain, or feel must be there for reasons not obvious to the reader at this moment. Elements that setup important plot points.

This leaves me with a quandary. Do I make major changes that make it hard to keep the elements I feel are important? Or do I ignore the group’s warnings about the problem areas? Is there an acceptable alternative that lets me address their concerns while keeping intact what I want/need for later?

I wrote before about avoiding the infinite edit, in which I talked about this particular chapter. As I said then:

It is possible to edit a chapter over and over and never “finish” it. I could reword sentences and rewrite the same scene over and over. Infinitely editing the same chapter, never moving on to the bigger story. At some point you have to draw a hard line and say, “Yes it could be better, but it is good enough as it is right now.”

With regards to this chapter, I feel I am close to that hard line where you just fix the most glaring or easily solvable problems and ignore the rest.

I will think on this some more, review the notes from the meeting and listen to the audio recording I made. I will reread the problem areas with a harsh, unbiased eye. I hope to find away to address the bigger problems that does not require a major overhaul. Failing that I may settle for simply reducing the problems so they don’t intrude into the story to the same extent they do now. That may be the best solution I can manage.

New resolution

When I was first getting serious about writing, I looked at many of the writer’s help sites floating around on the internet. During one of these forays, I ran across a quote that I thought was particularly applicable to me. I can’t remember the exact wording or who said it, but the gist was that any writer who wants to be successful must first overcome his hatred of his own work.

That message still resonates with me. My problem (as almost everyone here knows) is that I am a perpetual editor, which essentially keeps me trapped in the words I’ve already written rather than free to explore the plot elements that are still running around in my head. It means I can’t move forward, and it makes me obsess over every flaw, which doesn’t do much for my confidence in my own abilities. I’ve gotten to the point now where I have an almost visceral aversive reaction to sitting down and trying to write, and so I avoid it. I still love my story, but I feel as if I’m failing it – I’m not a good enough writer yet to tell it the way it needs to be told.

Intellectually I know that everyone is bad at first, and that practice is the only way to overcome that. You can’t get that practice if you’re continually stuck in the same place. I try to move on, but I find myself obsessing about the flaws in the earlier points of the story so much that it’s impossible – I just can’t focus on the current chapter without going back to the first. So the first has been re-written about thirty times, the second chapter a few times, and the third chapter is still in its infancy.

I’m finally at the point that I must do something different, because what I’ve been doing hasn’t been working. Brant volunteered to let me send him a set number of words each day, and he’d provide some quick editing and shoot it back to me. That way I could see if I was on target with what I was writing, and use that feedback to help guide my next day’s writing. I sent off my first email today, with my new beginning to the first chapter (this, incidentally, is the sixth different opening I’ve tried, and I haven’t liked any of them). I guess we’ll see how this works. Maybe being accountable to someone else will help me – it certainly worked with the gym!

So here’s my new resolution(s): I will write 250 words each day. I will not obsess over getting every detail perfect yet. I will allow myself to edit only for general content and clarity’s sake. I will not allow myself to obsess over word choice, pacing, timing, missing or incomplete transitions, vague feelings of dislike, or anything else that will hamper my ability to get the story down in its entirety. I will write, and I will do so until the book is complete.

So there they are, my new resolutions. Maybe I’ll even keep them this time.