Friday, December 4, 2009

Don't beat yourself up, Grasshopper.

Jessica Faust, over at the BookEnds Literary Agency is talking about the writing process.

She starts with ...

Not too long ago a client was going through some revisions with her editor and called me for a pep talk. She was confident that she could get the revisions done and even felt good about how she planned to do them. What upset her was that the editor had to point out these things in the first place. She really felt it was all so obvious, something she should have seen before even sending in the material, and she was feeling a little down on herself about the entire thing.

Jessica goes on to say everyone has a different writing process and there is no wrong or right way to write. This is very true.

I think the interesting point is that, as adults, we don't like to 'get it wrong'. As children we attempt things and sometimes we fail. But since we are children, the grownups encourage us. As a child, it is acceptable to make mistakes.

As adults it gets harder to accept that we can still make mistakes. Writing is such in intimate, individual process, of course we will get too close to see the mistakes. Being receptive to constructive criticism is invaluable .

That's where having a writing group whose judgment we trust is the an important step in the polishing process. Then comes the editor, who will bring a fresh set of eyes to the manuscript. Then the copy editor, looking for those errors that creep in. I once read a book where the main character's eyes changed colour halfway through, and not because of a magical event or some other plot device.

Even with all the people on a movie set, continuity mistakes creep in. Here's a site devoted to mistakes in movies. You could spend hours going through it.

We would all like to hand in the perfect manuscript. It's a matter of professional pride. But, if you did hand in your book and the editors made no changes, you'd have to wonder if they didn't really care enough to give it that final polish. And besides, none of us are perfect.

My daughter is a perfectionist. She was six, when I was driving her to her first ballet lesson and she was nervous. She confessed she didn't really want to go. I finally wormed the reason out of her. She didn't know anything about ballet so she didn't want to go and look silly in front of girls who did know. I told her, you are going to ballet lessons so you can learn. You can't expect to know everything before you start. That made her laugh and she was OK afterwards.

Writing is in intimate process. I keep saying this. For all the flash cards, research and plotting you might do, there is still that leap of faith, when the words pour out of you. What is actually seen on the page is only the tip of the ice-berg, where your book is concerned. Have you revealed too little of the ice-berg, or too much? It is next to impossible to tell.

So don't tie yourself in knots, trying to get it perfect.

Find a group of writing friends you can trust and be open to constructive criticism.

And yes, I was a fan of the 1970s Kung Fu show. But I couldn't find a good photo of little Grasshopper.

Do you have a 'Swedish Writing Fairy' like Tansy, who reads your manuscript and gives feedback? Do you have a group, like ROR, who are as passionate about the craft as writing as you are?

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