One Hundred Thousand Pieces of You

June 24, 2009 at 8:59 PM | Posted in Editing, Writing, Writing Advice | 6 Comments

Writing, like singing in the shower or popping zits in the bathroom mirror (hey, this is teens writing for teens), is an intimate activity. I’ve always found it strange when authors are asked whether their characters are “based on” them – of course they are, at least in part. Every character and plot twist begins with our dreams, anxieties, and experiences. When a well-meaning relative tries to sneak a peek at my first drafts, the urge to beat them over the head with my keyboard stems as much from the fear that I have not hidden myself well enough in the unpolished words as the embarrassment of early draft adverb-itis.

Which is all well and good for first drafts. But what about second drafts, or third? If the 100,000 words of your novel are all pieces of you, how do you learn to let go and view your work objectively? How do you accept rejections from agents with grace and read editorial letters without cringing? Your manuscript may be your “baby,” but someday you have to let that kid grow up, boot him out of your basement, and cut off his access to your credit cards.

When we write, our primary goal is usually to tell a compelling story (with the possibility of publication sometimes thrown in). To create distance between myself and my WIP, I find it helpful to think of words, analogies, conflicts, villains, and even protagonists as nothing more than tools I use to reach that goal. Then when an agent or beta reader tells me something isn’t working, I don’t have to kill my “darlings,” I just have to switch out a monkey wrench for a ratchet to help me tell the story I want to write. If I am having an especially hard time staying objective, I copy and paste the section I’m working on into a separate word document and deconstruct it sentence by sentence – breaking it down into the most basic elements to prevent my general angst from getting in the way.

I’ll admit this isn’t always easy, and I don’t always pull it off without breaking a sweat. But to be fair to myself and my story, I have to try to see everything that is not essential as subject to change. No matter how pretty that chainsaw looks stuck between the gears of my manuscript, I need to pry it out for the best parts of me – original concepts, three dimensional characters, polished words – to shine.

What tactics do you use to maintain objectivity towards your manuscript (be warned – if you say you always view your writing dispassionately, I may suspect you of zombieism)?

– DK

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6 Comments »

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  1. Man is this a tough one. I am going to have to think on this.

    *useless posting again…*

  2. Ummm, what to do I do? Good question. I leave it alone for a few days to try to get some distance and then I pretend I’m my younger sister and pick out all the things I think she might notice (she’s a notorious critic) and think about whether or not I actually need it, why I need it, and then decide if I should keep it, chop it or change it. :)

    -sde

    • I think this is a good plan. Walking away for a while… and then maybe thinking “pretend you are a beta” and getting into beta mode. Sometimes there are days when I can completely make myself think I just took my book off of the bookstore shelf and don’t know who the author is. That happens very rarely though (VERY RARELY).

  3. Being objective is one of the hardest things to do, because, even when I think my MC is nothing like me, he/she really IS. And that’s why it’s so darn hard to share my work with others. I only recently began posting snippets, and I STILL don’t share it with family members. I read the occasional paragraph to my husband, but I hide it whenever he walks by my screen. The only “real” person I let read anything of mine is my sister. She is my critter, at least for the first go round. I know, I know, not the most unbiased person, but I have to start somewhere.

  4. Even if your MC is nothing like you – which I didn’t think mine was, until my friends pointed out that it’s my rebel side coming to light! – you also have that connection of it being your baby just from the sheer amount of time spent with it. Insulting it means insulting you!

    And I love the phrase “early adverb-itis”; I’m so guilty of it!

  5. I think every book benefits from its writer basing their characters on themselves, at least in some ways. What could make a character more authentic? I also think it makes writing itself easier – you give your MC the same worries about the future that you have, and suddenly his/her narration on that subject comes out smoothly and naturally, straight from your own heart.
    As for being objective… I just try to look at it from someone else’s point of view. Critiquing someone else’s work, now that’s a piece of cake. I’ve even considered printing my WIP out with someone else’s name on the top of every page. haha!


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