Friday, February 3, 2012

Rewriting—Don’t Fire the Coach Just Yet

How is writing like hockey?
If Coach Q's mustache doesn't know, then I certainly don't.

In which KK indulges in another hockey metaphor. Because she can.

I’ve hit a bit of a wall in my rewriting. This is silly, I know, because I’ve only reviewed three chapters. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’m feeling this way because I haven’t had time to push through the next three chapters. Something about having to make money to pay bills and stuff. It’s annoying.

Anyway, while I’ve been writing website copy and blog posts for clients and other stuff that doesn’t really feed my creative needs, my brain has been running in circles around the book I just finished. I was really excited about it while I was writing it. I was really excited about it when I finished it.

Now my brain is coming up with all kinds of things that are just wrong. Things my brain says to me:
  • Is there really a strong plot throughline? 
  • Did your secondary hero really have any kind of development? 
  • There’s such a backlash against vampires right now—will this thing even sell? 
  • Did you spend way too much time indulging yourself and not pay any attention to actually writing a decent book? 
  • Did you WASTE THREE MONTHS writing a PILE OF CRAP?!!

I’m sure some of you can relate.

Time to Fire the Coach?

Last night there was a hockey game. Okay, there were several of them, but the one I’m talking about is the one where my team got massacred and one of the dudes on the opposing team matched a record for number of points scored by a single player in a game. It was brutal.

After a hockey team—or any sports team, for that matter—loses a game, or loses a few games, or loses a game to a team they really should be able to mop the ice with (like the freaking EDMONTON OILERS OMG WTF still bitter), there’s always a fan reaction. A crazed, rapid, intense fan reaction filled with bad language. The discussion usually involves what players are underperforming, where they should be traded and for whom, and whether or not it’s time to fire the coach.

The truth of the matter is, while making judicial trades is probably a good idea, and sometimes pulling in a new coach can turn a team around (but not always), usually smaller adjustments are needed. Switching up lines, or working with players individually, or swearing at the team more in the locker room during intermission. I don’t even know—I’m not a sports expert. But I do know that trading the entire team and firing the coach is never a good option. Okay, rarely a good option.

When you get into a headspace where you’re pretty sure the book you wrote is a steaming pile of crap, you’re basically doing the same thing. You’ve gone from wondering if that right wing might play better at center to riding the coach and the goalie out of town on a rail. It’s the kind of reaction only a rabid fan would endorse. And what is a rabid fan, by definition? Somebody who’s emotionally way too close to the problem.

Chances are that my throughline is fairly solid. I’ve been writing for a long time—these things usually come together pretty well even when it happens on a subconscious level. And my secondary hero might need a bit of work, but it’s more tweaking than anything else. I don’t think I need to try to trade him to Calgary for another guy or anything that extreme. Tossing the whole book out as a steaming pile of crap would be like firing the coach prematurely.

What I need to do, then, is step back. I need to make notes of what I think isn’t working and how I think it could be fixed. I need to start making lists of scenes to write that will fill in the spots where things don’t flow right, or where a bit more insight into a character’s motivation will fill a blank. Maybe I need to write a new outline, based on the finished book, and see where the holes exist. Any of these techniques, or a combination, can help me take a step back from the problem and help me see what the issues really are. It’s objective. It’s goal oriented.

And then I won’t fire the coach. Because hey, the coach is me, and that would just be awkward.

One last note—I was Googling around for something the other day (I forget what but it probably had something to do with Marian Hossa because doesn't everything?), and ran across one of these articles in reaction to a game the Chicago Blackhawks lost. Questions about why the team was performing so poorly, whether half the roster should be traded, and yes, whether or not the coach should be sent packing. I skimmed it, then glanced up at the date.

It was from the year the team won the Stanley Cup. There’s a lesson there.