Thursday, September 29, 2011
Fixing a Flat
I’m going to quote Stephen King today, because knowing a successful author at the top of his game still has to deal with writing problems makes me feel better. In an interview Uncle Stevie once described writing as akin to digging artifacts out of the ground: sometimes you get the whole pot or bowl, sometimes it comes out chipped or cracked. Sometimes it comes out completely broken. Sometimes you only get shards. Your job as a writer is to excavate as much of the book from your head as you can, and get it out as close to intact as possible. Even if you do your best, slipups do happen, and the book that looked so bright with promise when you started digging at it comes up with a nasty crack, or finally reaches the surface only to crumble in your hands.
I have before me a stack of papers (yeah, I’m old school) that represents my latest archaeological dig. Overall I’m happy with it. However, I’m not overjoyed. It was going along fine until I got near the end, then suddenly went off the rails. Months of digging (I write really slow) and I brought up a pot with a crack in it.
How did this happen? Could be several things. I’m a pantser, so I plot on the fly. Maybe the ending I came up with isn’t the one that belongs here. Maybe I don’t know the characters as well as I thought I did. Maybe I’m trying to rush something through that’s not ready to go. I’ve already let it sit for a bit and come back to it, and the cracks are still there. Not as wide as they were on first draft, but you can see where the pattern doesn’t match up. Or maybe I’m the only one who can see it. I just know it’s driving me nuts.
Here’s where beta readers come in handy, or a really spectacular editor. A new set of eyes can work wonders. I’m too close to my story right now. I can't hear what my subsconscious is trying to yell at me. I hate to send a broken story out to market, or even one with a crack. On the other hand, at least 80% of it is how I imagined it, and after close to a year I’m so sick of the thing I couldn’t do workable repairs anyway. Sometimes broke is as close as you get.
My solution: I’m going to do spot-edits, shore up the cracks, polish it up until the glue sets (or at least doesn’t show) and send it on its way. With luck, either an editor or future readers will tell me where I went wrong, so if I pull up another pot with the same flaws I’ll know what to do about them. Pity you can’t hurl a broken book at a wall. Papers just don’t make that satisfactory crash.
These things happen. All you can do is your best, and try to learn from your mistakes. Maybe I’ll reread some Stephen King, and see if I can spot the cracks he was talking about.