What do you think of when you think of the writer? A few days (or maybe weeks) worth of stubble? Empty bottles of liquor clinking around the derelict typewriter as he hammers away on a hopeless draft? A dark room, leather-bound books, lots of oak? A pathological aversion to sunlight? A tendency to yammer or babble, even when nobody else is in the room?
There’s a reason writers face such stereotypes, and a primary cause for that reason is that writing is so overwhelmingly a solitary activity. After all, no matter how many people you involve in the process, it all ultimately comes down to just you and the blank page. The overwhelmingly intimidating blank page. The soul-crushing perfect white expanse. The gaping void waiting to swallow your futile effort at wordsmithy. At the end of the day, it comes down to the writer and his blind, fumbling self. Or, sometimes, his multiple, ever-arguing, ever cross-contradicting selves.
Most of the writer’s problems are problems he must solve by himself. Plot’s knotted up? Well, it’s your plot — nobody else even knows what the various bits of twine and frayed yarn you’ve snarled like a plate of stale spaghetti are attached to. Characters misbehaving? You’re the only one inside their heads, you grab the bonesaw and go hacking around til you figure it out. Theme not coming through? Well, theme is subjective, so maybe you’re off the hook there.
There’s no denying it, we’re on our own most of the time.
(Photo by Drew Coffman.)
There’s a wealth of good to be gained by inviting somebody else into our lairs, though seriously, it’s probably a good idea to clean up the liquor bottles and the lunatic scribbles covering the walls first. Because as much as you understand the Rube Goldberg machine that is your broken story, you’ve been living with it for a while. You’ve become desensitized to some of its finer features, like how a hoarder isn’t bothered by the pure funky wave of cat-pee-stink lurking in the dark corners of her house. You don’t even notice the peeled wallpaper, the layer of sticky film on the linoleum, the ring around the tub.
But when you spin out the tale and talk out the problems to somebody else, all of a sudden, it’s like turning on a floodlight in a dark alley. It’s like throwing open the window on a musty study. It’s like calling the cops on a house full of drunk teenagers. All of a sudden, all the little stuff you’ve been ignoring looks stupid bad; all the unsightly bits are not only eminently visible, they become outright embarrassing.
How did I miss that?
Where did that even come from?
What, to be direct, in the fargo was I thinking?
Whether the friend (and make no mistake, if they’re listening to you prattle on about your story for any length of time beyond five seconds, this person is your friend, and one you probably owe a few adult beverages to in exchange for the favor) who’s loaned you an ear has any solutions to offer or not, you will see your work in a whole new light, simply by virtue of the act of putting it on display for somebody else to see.
You just can’t catch it all by yourself. The echo chamber between your ears makes you deaf to the nonsense you’re spitting. The smoke you’re blowing up your own butt blinds you to the blemishes in your draft. (And yeah, I realize if the smoke is going up your butt, it would have a hard time blinding you, just … I’m almost there, okay? GOD.)
I’m not even talking about a beta reader. Make no mistake, you need good beta readers. But I’m talking about long before the beta reader stage. Maybe even before you’ve finished spawning the ill-formed first draft.
You need that sounding board.
And you owe this person for listening to your drabble.
Find them and be nice to them.
(For reference, this week’s SOCS prompt was the suffix -ing. While it’s virtually impossible to write without using this little structure, I thought that for the sake of doing something to death, I’d document my usage. Also, as an English teacher, I enjoyed the exercise. I used -ing 40 times in this post. Thirty times as a participle, eight times as a gerund, and twice as part of a non-verbal word. Yeah, I’m that kind of thinker. Sigh.)
This weekly Re-Motivational post is part of Stream of Consciousness Saturday. Every Saturday, I use LindaGHill‘s prompt to refocus my efforts and evaluate my process, sometimes with productive results.