clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Tuesday, October 17, 2017


Public domain image from wikicommons at left. These are Bulgarian sentries in the snow in 1913. They're having a blast.

The military has a phrase for the middle third of our composition process: "Embrace the suck."

Life is unfair and unpleasant and there are times -- especially in the military --when one must just "do" rather than "desire to do." So the story goes, anyway. I only know what I read.

We writers uniformly are excited when we start a long-form project. 

We've plots and twists and plotty-twists and diet Mountain Dew or a recharged Starbucks card. We've often only a germ of an idea that we know will become whole through those tenuous mind-holds we create as our prose crosses the page.

One material element, then another, then another.

In the process, our freshly sharpened pencils dull one by one and we've decided that our opus consists of a loosely formed collection of plot holes more or less occupying a related set of electrons on our computer's hard drive.

We know that first drafts of anything are messy (except those of the authors who lie about their first drafts sucking -- those are flow-of-consciousness "gems" which just come into being in a wonderful songbird accompanied peal of joy).  For we normal writers, our first drafts suck.

Somewhere between one-third and two-thirds of the way through, we see more holes and flaws and should-have-been bits than we can stand. It is here that many of the unfinished Great American Novels end.

Embrace the suck.

Anything can be fixed with the exception of the untold tale. Unfinished means nothing. Unfinished does not exist.

You had an idea. It didn't work. Fine. Drive on because the only chance of making it work is to finish the story. 

And then what happens?

Steve Almond says writing is decision making.  

I say the most important decision is the one where we decide to write. Not discuss. Not blog. Not tweet. Write.. 

I'm watching a friend struggle with her prose. She's hiding from her pen. She's complaining about it.  She isn't embracing the suck. She has lots of life suck going on. Surprise. She's not alone.

She doesn't read this blog.

I don't offer unsolicited advice to fellow writers. I watch them thrash in silence as fish on a dock with their life motivation slipping away as they wet the boards with the silhouette of  brief, damp, desperate life.

 I turn back. I embrace the suck. My ink only runs in my own veins.

My ass hurts. My toes are cold. My fingers cramp. My illusion of self-worth crumbles as I think I've no business picking up a pen. 

I think of drinking instead. I think of sitting on the deck, lighting a pipe, and reading from my favorite authors.

I remember they too had to embrace the suck. I sigh. I stretch. I spill some ink upon the page declaring myself talentless and my story trite and unimaginative.

I'll fix it on the next draft just as my heroes have done, after I finish this draft.

Just as you should.

Embrace the suck. Everyone whose fiction you read had to give the suck a big unpleasant hug at some time in the process.   

This time it is our turn. 

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