Inspired by a Dog Groomer
Since I got all serious on you last week, I’m mixing it up a little. Please bear with me (or in the case of Laura O., “bare” with me, inside joke, snort), while I weave a tenuous connection between dog grooming and writing. Yes. Really.
I’m too chicken to clip my dogs’ nails myself. When they were tiny puppies I managed it a couple of times while they slept on my lap. But one day Buster woke up, just as I was squeezing down the blade. That resulted in frantic squirming, loud squeals (both of us), and a bit of blood (his). We were traumatized and I decided to leave nail-clipping to the experts.
Buster & Daisy
There are two kinds of experts. Those who believe in themselves, and those who don’t.
Carrie is a lovely young woman, probably in her early thirties. She always pats my dogs and sweet-talks them before they even see the nail clippers. She’s been grooming dogs a long time and she knows her stuff. But still, every time, it’s a struggle. Daisy has learned to derail the process by shoving her head against Carrie’s arm, or pushing with the hind foot not being clipped. She whirls in my arms like a well-oiled machine part. For a thirteen pound dog she puts up a helluva fight and I have all I can do to hold her. What terriers lack in size, they make up for in determination. Buster is closer to seventeen pounds and because he’s a wimp to begin with, it doesn’t take much to launch him into full-fledged panic mode. There’s always lots of high-pitched sobbing (his, not mine). The nails get done, but it’s not pretty.
Adam is a good deal younger than Carrie-he might still be in his teens. He’s multiply pierced, has a frail build, and is very shy. But he has a quiet authority when it comes to his job. Daisy puts up only token resistance. Buster might let out a pathetic whimper, because that’s what drama queens do. But basically the dogs relax and it’s all over in just a few minutes. Then Adam gets down on the floor and plays with Buster (Daisy’s more interested in the pet store’s resident ferret).
From my point of view, both groomers grab a paw and clip the nails. I can’t tell the difference in what they actually do, but obviously my dogs can. I think it all boils down to self-confidence.
As writers we need to believe in our stories, and our ability to write them. We need to write well and with authority. As a reader, I don’t let myself become immersed in a story which starts off poorly written. By that, I mean grammatical mistakes, florid prose, lamentable word choice, starting the story in the wrong place (so far “in” that I’m confused or so far “out” that I become bored). But I’ll happily take the figurative hand of a good writer and jump right into the world he or she has created.
The extent to which I don’t always believe in myself became clear during an edits discussion with my agent. It was our first talk since I’d accepted her offer. The changes were minor. Intellectually, I recognized that. But inside was that voice whispering, “What if I can’t do them right? Sure, they seem easy, but what if they turn out to be harder than I anticipate? What if I suck at this, and she changes her mind about being my agent?” Then, she said offhandedly, “I’m not going to tell you how to do them obviously. You’re a very deft writer…”
So, I did the edits, which led to more pangs of doubt. One of her suggestions was a transition chapter between a particular significant scene and another. I wrote the chapter. It was twenty-eight words long. No matter how I tried to spin it out, it didn’t work, adding words just diluted the power of the original twenty-eight. I sent off the edits and braced myself, waiting for her to tell me in the kindest possible way that I sucked. Well, she loved the twenty-eight word chapter.
I really need to trust myself more than I do. That is my current writerly goal. If Adam can clip Buster’s nails and make it look easy (which I know it isn’t), then I can write the story the way I feel it needs to be written. Which isn’t to say I intend to ignore constructive criticism, because that’s important too, just not for this post.
Do you have a hard time telling the critical voices in your head to shut the hell up?
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