Greasing Mental Gears

I hope everybody has survived the Annual Feast of Gratitude followed by the Annual Frenzy of Materialism. I managed to find several virtual opportunities to replace or upgrade items, which was nice. I also ate too much. There was pie. Most of it happened for breakfast the following morning. I also stumbled into one of the classic blunders. Not the Asia thing, or even the Sicilian one, no: I peopled for a week as an introvert and expected to get things done after returning home. Oops. Suffice to say, I’ve gotten nearly sufficient sleep, barely-adequate nutrition, and the Vitamin M hasn’t really touched my headache. So I’m just going to ramble for a while and hope it coalesces from inherent gravity. Foolish? Then I shall become that fool!

I’m often gripped by one of the major temptations of the perfectionist. I want to withhold my WiP until it’s finished, I’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed red pen and fixed everything that needs fixing. Only then will I present it to the world, that I may bask in the world’s adoration. Or at least that of my friends and couple of dozen readers. It’s a really bad idea, and one that is actively detrimental to development as a writer. And mental health. I don’t recommend it!

This is why we have people. People who can read our stuff, or at least listen to us ramble about our stuff, and make the appropriate, non-committal monosyllables. If you haven’t these people, get them. Spouses work. Sometimes. Mrs. Dave and I have had mixed success with resolving (or dissolving) blocks. We both have a tendency to seize an idea like the proverbial bit and run with it. When we’re brainsturmink or plotting, this can be a lot of fun. When I’m trying to noodle my way through what’s preventing the words from wordening, this is … fraught. Sometimes very fraught.

Sometimes, more experienced (or less experienced) writers you trust can be quite helpful. The buddy I stumbled into mentoring in his writing career is quite useful. There’s just enough “I’m not sure if this is a good idea” to the suggestions that I’m able to mentally masticate the notion without having to worry about biting off too large a chunk of plot and choking on it. So to speak. This comes down to being careful with whom you share your works-in-progress. What the sharee (not Gloria, not Marie) needs to be focused on is assisting in the mental lifting. For me, this usually looks like helping me fix the worldbuilding.

I’ve been stuck working on a system for the space opera. I’ve almost got the characters there. They’re a scene away? And I thought the issue was not being good enough at solar mechanics and orbits and suchlike to figure out how it works. Also, the scale of a system-wide junk/bone yard was throwing me for a loop, a little. A comment from online fam-of-choice tripped me to one piece I’d been neglecting in my mental calculations, and then my buddy pointed out a couple of other things, and I realized I was introducing the elements in the wrong order. So now I can go back, rewrite a few paragraphs, and plow on through.

Ultimately, my point is have the right people around, who can assist without trying to make your story their story. And when they come back to you with an issue, focus on the issue. I don’t imagine most of us have problems with that, but I find asking questions to be the most useful technique. If they ask for specific suggestions — “what do you think I should do here?” — I tend to offer multiple suggestion, and keep them more strategic than tactical. What does the character want? Who can be hurt the most through this? Who needs to suffer? What’s going to bring the greatest tension to this scene? More fundamental story questions, rather than specific actions that could resolve a situation. Quite frankly, my job as a plot assistant isn’t to resolve whatever is their quandary; it’s to provide sufficient mental grease that they can fix the problem themselves. And vice versa. That’s how you’re going to be most satisfied, and likely how you’re going to write the best story you can. Which you should do. Now.

3 thoughts on “Greasing Mental Gears

  1. On one hand, you don’t want to burn people’s first impressions by having them find problems you can find yourself.

    On the other hand, I once had a major complaint about a story, and the author’s answer was that he had revised it so much that he was sick of it and wouldn’t fix it, so you can go too far the other way.

    Also, if you go and fix all the typos and the readers come back and point out that the first half and the second half aren’t really of the same story, all your typo fixing is wasted, because they would vanish anyway.

    1. I’m with Mary here. Having a first reader is a great help, but beware of the need to rewrite everything to death. Trust the process; easy to say, hard to do when self-doubt kicks in.

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