Thursday’s Children February 28, 2013

Inspired by a Dog Groomer

A weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them. Join us!

A weekly blog hop where writers come together to talk about whatever inspires them. Join us!

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.

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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…”

Really? 

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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29 thoughts on “Thursday’s Children February 28, 2013

  1. Tenuous, you say? Not so! This was deftly written! Go figure. 😉

    So, to your question: “Do you have a hard time telling the critical voices in your head to shut the hell up?” My answer: Hell yes! I start each day absolutely convinced that I suck as a writer, that I was a fool to get myself into this mess, that my work will never be worthy, and that I might as well quit while I’m ahead. Then I proceed somehow find a way to beat those demons into submission, and get to work. It’s a trying process, but one grows accustomed to routine.

    Great job–Love the idea of the twenty-eight word chapter being spot on! 🙂

    • Well, at least I know I’m not alone with my demons. Persistent little bastards, aren’t they…it does help to think of beating them into submission as a “daily routine” 🙂

  2. Do I have a hard time with those voices? Every. Single. Day. 😦

    And can I just say, I love this post – there’s not a tenuous connection to be seen. Well done! 🙂 Also…Buster and Daisy are adorable. 🙂

  3. Oh my gosh I love your dogs!! (And Adam needs to be a character in one of your books. I like him…) And your twenty-eight words is awesome. Twilight: New Moon had a number of chapters where there were no words at all and yet we understood them. As to the critical demons in my head, they’ve done their fair share of holding me back, but lately I’ve gotten rather violent toward them. I won’t go into details as it’s quite bloody…

  4. Battle with the self-doubt demons every day, but am winning. I’m learning the craft, and it’s taking a while – but I’m so encouraged so many others go through the same things. Hooray for the 28 word chapter – so glad you trusted your instinct. Oh and your dogs are gorgeous (although my kids have the same attitude to having their nails cut… I wonder if Adam would consider dropping by…).

  5. Yes. In fact the post I said I wouldn’t write, but did write, is about a made-of-suck moment. I can’t possibly believe anyone thinks my writing is good enough for me to have gotten where I am. Weird. But I think so many of us feel this same way. And hoorah for a successful 28 word chapter!

  6. When I first started writing I found myself saying, “This is going to be a great story. Maybe someone else should write it.” I’ve learned to stop saying that (at least out loud) because these are stories that were given to me and I need to write them. Still, some days it’s easier to believe that than others.

  7. I bow to your blogging prowess. 😀

    28 words isn’t bad at all! I think it’s awesome that you were able to do that and get it to work. I think the shortest chapter I’ve ever seen was from the book Gremlins. It had 2 words “He forgot”.

    Sometimes the simplest statements are the most powerful. Thanks for sharing!

  8. i’m loving this comparison! yeah, self-doubt, something it seems all of us writers suffer from in one way or another.

    i’m always worried my edits won’t live up my agent’s or CP’s expectations, but they usually do, so i’ve gotten better about being easier on myself. it’s hard though…when it’s something you’ve created and worked months (years) on, the last thing you want to do is disappoint yourself or worse, the person who has total belief in you!

  9. Nicely done! Now I know writing metaphors can come from anywhere 😉

    I think it’s a learned trait — the ability to judge whether your own work is good or not. Sometimes you kinda know something isn’t quite right, other times you need a bit of nudging to get you to rethink. Even if that rethink is 28 words 🙂

    All in all, I think you just have to trust what you’ve learned. In the end, it’s not about you or your abilities — it’s about the work. And making it better.

    Woof!

  10. Great post! Great analogy!Your dogs are ADORABLE!! Did you say a 28 word chapter? Yes, you did. That seems very unusual, is it? Trusting ourselves can be very difficult, especially if one is coming from a place with a lot of baggage. Trusting myself, and ignoring the early doubts are the only thing that got me to finish my first project. Yes, I tell them to shut the hellz up ALL the time. Love your posts!

    • Well, as Kate mentioned TWILIGHT had a couple of chapters with no words at all. So, I’m 28 times wordier than Stephenie Meyer. Snort. Not really. Glad you stopped by, hope you’ll be joining next week 🙂

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