Tuesday, March 29, 2011

If You Caught It, You've Got It!

Week of March 27: Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
Tuesday, March 29: If You Caught It, You’ve Got It

Have you ever been in a book store that specializes in resources for 12-step recovery programs? Those people have the best bumper stickers.
·   Hokey Pokey Anonymous: A place to turn yourself around
·   If nothing changes, nothing changes
·   Once you’re a pickle you can’t go back to being a cucumber
·   Yes, I am Irish. No, I don’t drink. Yes, I am aware of the irony.
·   The only difference between God and me is God doesn’t think he’s me.
·   I am allergic to drugs. I break out in felonies and misdemeanors.
·   When one door closes, another one opens. But the hallways are a bitch!
·   Fake it ‘til you make it
·   I plan, God laughs.
·   Do the next right thing!
·   When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change
·   WARNING: I have character defects and I’m not afraid to use them!
·   Progress Not Perfection
·   If you caught it, you’ve got it

That last bumper stick drives me nuts every time I see it—If you caught it, you’ve got it. The Robinition of the phrase is this: If something about someone else bothers you, chances are you have the same character flaw/habit/personality trait.

Lately as I’ve found myself being bugged by other writers and what they say and do, I’ve been trying to stop and say to myself: If you caught it, you’ve got it. So let me come clean today and tell you some of the stuff that has been bugging me and how it really is all about me as a writer and how I need to improve and grow. Maybe you’ll see yourself in some of my reflections.

Someone said recently, “This is my second revision so I’m sure I’m finished now.” Another time someone wrote, “I’ve revised this three or four times and I’m sure it’s ready to go. Don’t you think so?” The three people who critiqued the manuscript did not think so and encouraged more revision. I definitely know I caught this one ‘cause I’ve got it. I like to finish a project and I want others to say, “Oh, this is perfect. You don’t need to do one more thing to it.” Interestingly, no one ever says that. As time goes on, I find myself nipping my “I’m finished” in the bud, but I always have to watch it.

I’ve had some experiences where fellow writers have said things like this: “My hairdresser knows the cousin of a woman who works maintenance at the Scholastic building. She thinks she can get my manuscript on the desk of an editor there!” Or this one: “I wrote in my cover letter that I enjoyed her presentation at the conference. Of course, I wasn’t in her presentation, but she’ll never know.”

I caught it! I got it! I too am always looking for the magic bean, the smoke and mirrors, the fairy god mother who will get my manuscript into the hands of the right person. This comes from reading too many fairy tales. Hijinks won’t get me published and it won’t get you published either. We’re going to have to go through the same process and hard knocks as everyone else. Supposedly it builds character. Frankly, I would give up a bit of character for a good book deal, but I don’t think it’s going to work that way!

I recently answered a query posted on a web site. The writer asked, “Can anyone tell me what the margins should be on a picture book?”

My first instinct was to write: “Yes I can. But I’m not going to.” But I stopped and thought: Have I caught/got something else? Yes. The attitude of wanting someone else to do for you what you are capable of doing for yourself is something some folks struggle with all their lives. Thank goodness for co-dependent people who step in and provide the answers! LOL! Seriously, searching for info and exhausting all the possibilities yourself can lead you to not only find the answer you’re looking for (hopefully), but also you’ll discover fifteen other things in the process. Of course, after all that work if you still can’t find your answer, you ask for help! (By the way, I gave the writer with the question links to two web sites that could provide the information he wanted. Hopefully I helped him help himself!)

That is one of my favorite Missouri colloquialisms. Both of my grandmothers and both of my parents used it frequently (sometimes with more colorfully word choices). The phrase fits many writers. I shared a cab from the SCBWI, LA, conference to the airport last summer. The woman was a writer I’d never met—the doorman hooked us up with a taxi as we waited in the lobby. She asked what I was writing and I went into a list of stories. Then I asked her the same question. She responded: “Oh, I’ve been working on a manuscript for ten years now. It’s almost ready.” Friends, it was a picture book manuscript. Both of my grandmothers shouted from heaven, “Poop or get off the pot!”

My friend Heather and I talked about this subject before our March critique group meeting. When do you let go of a manuscript and move on to something else? I don’t know that you ever let go of a manuscript . . . but you certainly have to move on. Before my first writing boot camp I had one manuscript I had played with off and on for years. But after that conference my list of manuscripts in various forms of completion grew and grew and grew. I firmly believe I have to have many projects in the works. Most will never be published. Some will make it to a critique group. A few will be submitted to editors and agents. One or two will hopefully get published.

“I didn’t make any changes. I like it the way it is,” a writing friend told a group of us. She had ignored all the critiques she was given and went ahead and sent off her manuscript (which was promptly rejected). I suffer from this ailment from time to time. I am so close to a manuscript that I can’t listen to the input of others. I am so convinced that I am right, that I can’t get it right. Sometimes it takes hearing the same comment from multiple people in multiple settings for me to “get it” and make the changes.

“Should I abbreviate SCBWI or spell it out in my letter to the agent?” a writer recently asked. Followed by: “Should I put said before or after a character’s name?” This is small stuff, folks. A manuscript is not going to be rejected for either of these reasons. Why put focus there? I’ll tell you why (because I’ve got this one, too). If you/I focus on the small stuff it will keep us distracted from the big stuff, the hard stuff, the stuff that really matters. If I’m worrying about whether to place said before or after the character’s name I’m probably not thinking about character development, story arc, tension, and more. At least that’s been my personal experience.

When I first joined an online critique group I was astounded one or two people could be so blunt, bordering on mean, in their critiques. These were good people who had lost focus of that old sandwich approach to critiquing—a positive, some constructive criticism, and another positive. I am sensitive about this when conferencing with students about their writing and I’m usually a kind critiquer. But if I caught it, I’ve got it. Sometimes I come on too strong and it usually means I need to stop critiquing at that moment in time. I’m usually tired or maybe frustrated about something else and need to check myself before decking someone else.

Have you ever been with someone who apologized all the way through a critique? It drives me nuts and it totally undermines even a quality critique. But I caught it, so I’ve got it. There are times when I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings or coming off to strong—especially in face-to-face critiques. I become mealy-mouthed and ineffective. I need to stick to my guns, especially when I know my intentions are correct.

Well, I feel like I should pay someone for a good therapy session. Today’s post was worth a month of visits to a shrink’s sofa. Maybe if I’ll just keep remembering if I caught it, I’ve got it then I can focus on keeping my side of the street clean. (Oh, by the way, that’s another recovery bumper sticker!)

It’s Your Turn!
1. Got a bumper sticker burden to get off your chest? Write it down and then start analyzing yourself. It’s cheap, relatively painless, and can be immensely helpful.

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