Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Licorice-flavored Brain Slugs and Faulkner

*Warning: This week's post is NSFW due to language. (In other words, it's J's turn!)

I have the Pod to myself this week. A is off giving a tour of an uncharted world. M has a queue of characters lined up for therapy. So this week you, dear readers, have to contend with the Resident Evil. Muwahahahahahaha!!!

What shall we discuss? Autopsy procedures? Crime scene screw ups? Sadistic serial killers and the women who love them? My hatred for the color pink? All of these are worthy topics but I'd actually like to offer up a bit of an explanation behind something that has been mentioned a few times on the blog already. If you read A's post in which she bared her writerly soul (and you should), then you undoubtedly read the following quote from yours truly:

"Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE, damn it!"

Yes, I said this. Yes, I stand behind it. I even have a version of it taped to my laptop as a reminder. While the meaning behind the statement is obvious, I still feel the need to explain how this simple phrase has become the unofficial official motto of the Ninja Peas.

It all started about a year or so ago when M was having a minor meltdown as all writers have from time to time. We all reach a point in a project where we hate everything we've written, everything we're currently writing, and everything we're going to write. In short, self-doubt slithers in like an alien slug, crawls undetected up our spines and burrows deep into our brains until we wake up one morning and question everything we've ever done, thought, planned, or plotted, and all we have left is a sudden and inexplicable love of elevator music, licorice jelly beans, and Faulkner. (If you know me then you know I detest all three. Yes, a former English major doesn't like Faulkner. Oh, the horror.) In an effort to help my friend and writing partner, I offered the best advice I could give...in my own way, of course. She has since passed this along to A and thus the unofficial official Ninja Pea motto was born.
Motto on J's laptop

Now this may sound like a bunch of self-aggrandizing bullshit. It's not. I'm fully aware of my insignificant place in the publishing world, and in the universe as a whole. However, I do know a thing or two about self-doubt and how it can kill a writer. So I'd like to offer up a little bit of hard-earned wisdom, not because I feel the need to stroke my own ego, but because if I can soften the blows for someone else (especially my Peas) then I will. No one can spare any writer the hard knocks. Those come with the territory and must be experienced. That's reality. But that doesn't mean you have to face them unprepared.

1. Pull your head out of your ass. Basically, as writers who actually want to see our names on bookstore shelves, we can't afford to have an obscured view of the publishing world. We can't have romanticized ideas of what it means to be a writer. We don't lock ourselves in a room for a few hours and fart out a manuscript. We write. We edit. We rewrite. We break down. We cry. We wail and gnash our teeth. We curl into blubbering balls of goo. It's normal. Writing is work...and yes, it's fucking hard work. It's not easy to live in your own head with imaginary people in a fantasy land for hours, days, weeks, months, or even years. But it is easy to get caught up in the minutiae of plotting, character arcs, and world building and forget to actually move the story forward by throwing words at the page. We have to pull our heads out of our asses and remember why we do this to ourselves so that when the self-doubt slugs creep into our brains and start doing the Electric Slide to elevator music we can blast them with AC/DC. Self-doubt slugs hate AC/DC.

2. Trust the story. The story knows where it needs to go. It's your job as the writer to guide it and make sure it's hitting certain check points. This is where the fucking hard work comes into play because you may not know all the check points. Yes, you've planned them out in advance but as often happens, the story wants to go in new directions. Don't fight it. Let it happen. Everything can be fixed in the rewrite phase, which by the way is more fucking hard work. Let the story do the Macarena. Unleash the screaming monkeys. Just don't stop throwing words at the page.

3. Trust yourself... This is the hardest part for many writers, thanks to the self-doubt slugs. Those little buggers feed on licorice jelly beans and leave slimy black residue in their wake. This residue eats away at the brain and causes the writer to question her ability to not only tell a story but to even form a coherent sentence. The slime cripples. Every writer has a different way of combating the slime. For me, walking away is the best defense. When the slime reaches critical mass, I shut down the laptop and walk away. I close up shop and spend a day or two on the couch either reading or watching Disney movies. Self-doubt slugs hate it when we read. Books are salt and it shrivels the slugs and dries the slime to a flaky and easily vacuumed powder. Disney movies are also great for this and not as big of a time investment as a book for when you're in a deadline crunch. Oh, deadlines...slugs love them. Have a liberal supply of salt handy.

As I Lay Dying
(Oh, dear gods, kill me now.
Don't make me read this crap!
Salt! I need the fucking salt!)
4. ...and WRITE, damn it! This is self-explanatory. Throw words at the page. They don't have to be good words. Those come in the rewriting phase. But you can't rewrite what you don't have. The self-doubt slugs are going to try to turn you into Faulkner. They will try to make you write like this:

"The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July, between the green rows of laidby cotton, to the cottonhouse in the center of the field, where it turns and circles the cottonhouse at four soft right angles and goes on across the field again, worn so by feet in fading precision." - (As I Lay Dying 3.2)

Do. Not. Listen. To. The. Slugs. They. LIE! This is not good writing. This is the work of an overrated hack. (Yes, I said hack.) Just write the path is straight, worn by years of foot traffic, and cuts across the cotton field. BUT only if it's important to the story! Move the action. Move the characters. Move the story forward. Don't get caught up in the minutiae.

The first draft should be dirty and gritty and raw. You clean and polish and cook it later. The best way to combat the slugs is to write quickly and not give them time to burrow into your brain. Once they've become entrenched, they're hard to get out.

So... Pull your head out of your ass. Trust the story. Trust yourself, and WRITE, damn it!

Peas out,

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