Just Shoot Me Now.

September 7, 2009 at 12:38 am (Uncategorized)

Birds, man. They’re everywhere. Not only have I just finished reading Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott’s instructive, hilarious and justifiably famous writing guide/meditation this morning (read that if you want or need to know a few home truths about this gig), having sat up late reading it last night, I got straight back into it bright and early when I was again woken by – you guessed it – the birds. Constant cacophony, that’s all I can say. It’s like there’s some territorial stoush going on… the spring finals. They seem to be fighting for treetops out there, and it’s getting ugly. And the kookaburras, well, frankly they’re like a group of wildly drunk carousers returning from a buck’s night out. They barrel in together at dawn, dishevelled, inconsiderate of the sleeping women folk, and it’s all about laughing at their own jokes and urinating off balconies. Just like home, really.

So anyway, let’s get to the firearm part of the post. I don’t know if any of you remember this, or were even kind enough to be reading my little piss-ant blog a year ago, but there was an excruciatingly painful night at Varuna when I inevitably had to read from my MS, and after finishing was greeted by dead silence. Not the dead silence I’m craving now I’m deranged with lack of sleep (I will n-e-v-e-r complain about noise at my place ever again. No, not ever. I mean, there’s a frighteningly industriousĀ bush turkey building its nest right beside my ear hole), but the type of dead silence that has less to do with noiselessness and more to do with rotting human flesh. Specifically, mine. The mortification was just tearing strips off me as I sat dying in my chair, barbecuing them up on the spot like the kebab man had come to Katoomba. Oh, it was horrible.

And a year later, I am here to tell you that last night, the dead silence returned like Freddy Kruger’s stripey torn jumper. It tapped me on the shoulder and then slit my throat from behind. I was glad, because all I really wanted at that moment was to die. And leave some pretty fucking stubborn bloodstains on the Cottage Point couch. Oh, it was horrible.

And all I read was page one. One. Just the first page. That’s it. Admittedly this page has been hardest to write because of my problems constructing a functional narrative arc, but I had hoped, dared to dream, that the first page was getting there. In the silence, I heard the unanimous verdict that it was not.

Then I think Jenny broke the air of decay by pinpointing a specific paragraph that was problematic or at least that she found confusing. She asked me to repeat it, and so, joy of joys, I got to read it out again. Yeah, that was so fun, pretty much exactly what I want to do on my birthday. But it very quickly emerged that it was this same paragraph JB and Catherine had trouble with too. The rest wasn’t so bad. They liked the other stuff. They even liked the core idea behind the offending paragraph. They just didn’t like the paragraph itself. It was convoluted. Obfuscating. I stared at the words on the screen thinking, but I like this paragraph. Or I did until the first three people to hear it all gave it a resounding thumbs down.

“I just found it confusing,” Jenny said. “I wasn’t sure what you meant.”

Then she very sweetly started qualifying that sentiment, suggesting maybe this confusion was somehow her fault, so I said – and I know this to be true – “That’s very sweet, Jenny, thank you, but it just shouldn’t be that hard.”

And it shouldn’t. If three trusted readers (Darkling Deb had a overnight pass) all have a problem with something, chances are, there is actually a problem. I told myself, You, you are that problem. You are a fucking failure. This is never, ever going to work. This manuscript is going to be the only thing you work on for the rest of your life, and even then it’s still going to stink, and it’s never getting published, and no one will ever read it, and then you’ll die. So maybe hurry that along.

Right on cue, Llew called.

“Hey,” I told him when Catherine handed me the phone, “I just read out my new first page.”

“And how did that go?”

“Oh, like hell.”

Llew laughed. The girls started protesting. I went on some rapid-fire self-loathing jag that I can’t quite recall for you now, it’s a blur, but primarily it involved a lot of hysterical, too loud laughter. Llew hurried off the phone when I got to the bit about intending to neck a bottle of wine and then some.

I did not ultimately do that.

No, I looked at the paragraph. And I hated myself some more. And then I allowed myself to be gripped by this really awful, sick certainty that I’ve spent this entire redraft adding in loads of paragraphs just like this one. Confusing. Convoluted. Obfuscating. Ruinous. I glared at the screen and really just felt like crying. But then I thought about the conversation we’d just had.

“What is it you’re trying to say here?” one of the Darklings asked me. “Just tell us that.”

So I told them, very simply.

“Well, maybe try just saying something like that.”

So I picked apart the paragraph. Deleted this, restructured that, fucked around a bit more, thought about the core idea, changed something else, and read it out again before we went to bed. It’s better now. And they were right. It may interest you to know it is also exactly half the length of the paragraph I started with. So now I have to go back in, guns blazing, and start hunting rabbits. In my case, this means eliminating the kind of verbal vermin that – left unattended or indulged even for one single day – breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds and breeds. So. Hunting season is officially open for business.

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14 Comments

  1. Fugitive Pieces said,

    I’m the wrong person for this. I like editing more than I like the damn writing. But yep, hands up, I got that exact silence last week in writing class. I thought I’d nailed it; the tutor liked it. Everyone else sat there and fixed their gaze on a nice neutral place other than me. Bugger. (Oh, and thank you for the rotting-flesh metaphor. Next time I die in public, it’ll be so much more pungent.)
    You’re in Shitty Umpteenth Draft-Land. Try not to freak out, and think of this as washing the windows. They’ll sparkle, and you’ll be able to see through them. Also, your arms should ache if you’re doing it right..

    • Fugitive Pieces said,

      Hilarious. Just as I finished typing this, my doorbell rang. Some researcher from Better Homes and Gardens wanting to film the front of my house tomorrow. Guess what I have to do? Yes, wash the windows. Me and my bloody metaphors…

      • doctordi said,

        They want to film the front of your house? That’ll learn you, and learn you good.

    • doctordi said,

      I quit like editing too, Fugitive, which is lucky. I’m doing a lot of it. I seem to be washing the windows of a palace, and I haven’t even seen what they’ve got waiting for me round back…

      Trying not to freak out. Trying. Not. To. Freak. Out.

  2. charlotteotter said,

    It sounds excruciating and I so admire you for sharing your WIP. I am being pathetic, keeping mine all to myself, just not ready to share with anyone. Your Darklings are clever and kind, and I’m sure will help you craft the manuscript of your heart.

    • doctordi said,

      Charlotte, no doubt about it. It was excruciating. I wonder who you’re going to ask to be a first reader for you… it’s something I really recommend, even though that’s like saying, “Hit me, I like it.” Yes, the Darklings are definitely a massive asset. I owe them all an enormous debt of thanks.

  3. Pete said,

    That editing process sounds so much worse than I imagined it would be. Here’s me thinking you’re on a lovely retreat having so much fun and working up a little storm and, well, I was cringing for you. But I also agree with Charlotte that your Darklings sound like they’re what’s needed right now. That Bird by Bird is also fabulous, but part of isn’t quite happy with it. I’ll let you know when I’m finished.

    • doctordi said,

      Pete, it’s all those things, if you can believe it, the full human drama! I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts on B by B.

  4. litlove said,

    This is the acid test, of course. And good news – you passed it. No matter how fabulous your book is (and it will be) there will always be people who sit in silence after hearing it and say ‘it didn’t work for me’. Even when you’ve cracked it. Over the years I’ve taken on the Mr Jelly technique. Which is to put something to one side for a little while when I’ve had some formidable criticism. And then I just let it all be, and settle, and maybe think about what I really wanted to do and say and get that clear in my mind. Everything is better with transitional space. More and more I think that writing is all about the right state of mind, the right perspective.

    But I’m digressing. It’s incredibly tough to hear criticism like that, but if you can forge a process out of it that helps you to see clearly what YOU want to do, then that’s going to be extremely helpful.

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Litlove. It’s definitely helpful. Hideous, but helpful.

  5. piereth said,

    Good for you for having gumption to face your work, roll up your sleeves and throw yourself back into the rewrite. Remember, you’ve got the diamond in there – all you have to do is clean the facets and let her sparkle.

    xx

    • doctordi said,

      Thanks, Piereth, god I am getting dirty in this diamond mine – the conditions are appalling!

  6. Lilian Nattel said,

    That was tough. (Awful, horrible, appalling). But you rewrote it. Way to go! And as for silence, the most awful reading I ever gave was at the cafe of a bookstore out west, where people had sat down to eat not listen! They weren’t silent. Not at all. They were chatting and chewing. I won’t do that again in a hurry.

    • doctordi said,

      Lilian, eek, horrors. That just sounds completely awful. Oh, except it might have worked in my favour if people were talking through it…

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