Happy Friday!!! TGIF!!! I have a speacial treat for you guys today. My friend, the HILARIOUS Clay Morgan, writer, professor and speaker from Pittsburgh, PA is here as a special guest. Some of Clay’s works include, Don’t Forget the Toilet Paper: A Memoir, Visits with Dead People: Family Memories, and Michael Myers vs. Facebook.
Thank you, Clay for sharing your wit and wisdom…
A few years ago I busted my hand while packing our vehicle for departure. Not good. We were about leave for a 25 hour drive to Florida, and I was scheduled to be behind the wheel for approximately 25 of those hours.
Extra not good.
I knew the hand was in trouble by the way the left side collapsed. The thing looked like an ampersand by the time we rolled into the Sunshine State. The doctor we rented a beach house from took a cursory look at my paw and made this sound: “ughblarg…” There may have been a snarf in there too but these memories are pretty sketchy since my brain was fairly rattled by the Vicodin-endorphin-orange juice cocktail I consumed for breakfast that day.
The staff at the emergency room down there could have just kidney punched me and taken my wallet for all the effort the expended to tell me my hand was broken. I left there with some x-ray images, a Cracker Jack prize, and a medical bill.
Throughout the rest of vacation and another week back home the bones healed but problems were setting in. I couldn’t find any bullets to bite, so I just went to my doctor and showed him what happened. Did I mention
the injury happened to my left and I’m a southpaw? Off to the orthopedist I went!
My left hand shudders at the memory of what took place there. Having broken bones set is never a picnic, not even a picnic that gets rained out while ants crawl all over your food. But let me tell you about how they fix smashed bones after two weeks of healing incorrectly.
I was laid on a table and given a nerve block in my hand. Two men stayed in the room. One of these guys was the doctor. His job was to sit on a rolling stool, take my hand, and re-break the not tender enough bones in order to properly reset everything. The other guy’s job was to lean across me with hands or forearms in case my body reflexively tried to attack and murder the good doctor.
You might think this procedure involves some sort of implement. Nope. Just the bare hands of someone who’s taken the Hippocratic Oath. He squeezed and pressed and snapped the stubborn paw. That’s snap, crackle, and pop if you’re keeping score at home.
I reacted sort of how William Wallace looks at the end of Braveheart when the executioners are fidgeting with his entrails. I sounded like him too, no words just grunts and empty gasps. It was as close as I ever came to seeing the types of things cartoons see when you hit them over the head with a frying pan.
When he finished I told the assistant how glad I was that the ordeal was over. He said, “Well, he still has come back and actually set the bones now.”
I’ve never written that story until now my WANA friends, but I have cause for dragging you through tha trauma. See, despite being a nonfiction writer these days, I also wrote a novel once. The unpublished book is a supernatural thriller called Dash. Think Field of Dreams but written by M. Night Shyamalan.
My book sucked mostly, but I got it done. All first novels are terrible, right? (Curse you David Baldacci and anyone else who hit it big on the first try.) Most of us just need to get it out. Get it down. That first book is a mind dump, as much therapy as plot development.
Mark stared down the space pirate, a creature more hideous than his dad who never came to any of my
games or even supported my decision to become a professional blogger! Oh, oops…
Maybe that’s just me. Maybe you’ve been there. That’s one of the main reasons we have to let our work sit
and get dusty for a bit after completion. We care too much about our fabulous WIP at first (mine took two years to write). A little distance hardens our nhearts enough for us to come back with a chainsaw later.
I still love my characters in Dash and did okay with dialogue, but I learned much about editing through hacking that puppy to bits. Three times. I realized it might just be saleable if I chopped another 25,000 words and eliminated a couple characters. I quit instead and haven’t looked at it in 4 years.
Then I went to a writer’s conference recently where my current work generated some interest. One night, an acquisition’s editor from a small press asked if I had anything else. I briefly described my sucky novel Dash. She told me to send it over.
*puts head into plastic window fan*
I’m thinking that reworking that novel will be about as pleasant as the time Doctor Pain brutalized me. Like my hand, Dash had too much time to form in the wrong way with built in damage, bad settings, and screwed up structure. But I’ll probably try for another painful attempt sometime since we writers are clearly masochists.
My style has changed. I’m a completely different person. I may need to be heavily medicated again, but should be distanced enough from that manuscript by now to bust it apart with all the dispassion of a hand-breaking orthopedist.
If you’re in the middle of a project and sense a fatal flaw you might want to face it sooner than later. I denied the extent of my problem and ended up with a painful and costly solution. But life was so much better once my hand was fixed, and I need that sucker to keep on writing, even when it hurts.
Do you have a MS that needs some painful deconstruction/reconstruction? How do you approach this painful chore? What are your thoughts? Suggestions? War stories?
Clay, this is so timely for me! I scored an agent last week. She took two of my books and asked for a proposal on another. Another? “Oh, uh…” my mind scurried. “Oh yes! I have another!” (the dusty yellowed one, under the books, notes and candy wrappers in the bottom drawer.) She said to send the proposal. YIKES!
I started editing the same, tired story that I’d edited 3,586 times. Yes, it’s been 3 years since I did it, but it didn’t get better with age.
Luckily, I have the incredible Jenny Hansen in my crit group. We sat down last night over Hummus and coffee and, through looking at theme and how best to showcase it, we came up with a workable novel. I don’t have to scrap the entire first MS – but I’ll pull the best of it, and drop it into the new framework. Brilliant!
So my suggestion to pull your head out of the way it used to be is to look at theme.
Worked for me!
So cool Laura!
Thanks Amy – but now our work begins, right?
Masochists – that about nails it.
Congrats on scoring the agent! And good luck with getting through that old novel. I’m sure having Jenny in your critique group is a big help:)
Congrats Laura! I’ll keep that good advice in mind.
OMG. I have one hiding in a corner of my hard drive that needs major surgery. I’ve been finding other things to do–like dusting and window-washing–to avoid thinking about it too hard. It has a good seed. It’s the weeds choking the life out of it that need to be whacked and any other unrelated gardening or medical analogy I can trot out.
Oooh Clay, it feel wrong to be laughing this much over your pain. Why is pain, explained right, so damned funny?
I had a weird visceral reaction to your story. I was 11, excited about something and running on our brick patio. I slipped and fell — caught myself with, I guess, just my right pinky finger. Which now jutted out at an unnatural angle. Cool! My mom made that same sound you did — shoved it down and told me to get in the car. Long, not funny, story short — I had THREE people pulling it back into place, two on my forearm and one on my pinky.
Going on waaay too long. I’ll save the finished catastrophe of my first novel for another comment.
Hey, if you can laugh at pain you can handle most anything 🙂
In the midst of said reconstruction now (the writing, not the hand), and there’s another project in dire need of the same intervention lurking over my shoulder.
“we writers are clearly masochists” indeed –
I’m sorry to laugh over your pain, but I did it anyway. What a hysterical post. My first novel is sitting in a box under my bed, all printed out and gathering dust. It’s twice the size it should be and mostly full of darlings that need to be murdered. I won’t be tackling it any time soon. But I don’t regret writing it, because the experience taught me a lot. Mostly about what NOT to do, but that’s okay. I’m editing my second novel and plotting a third, and the whole process is getting easier.
And yes, writers are clearly masochists!
No doubt. Editing my MS made me such a better writer. Our beloved leader Kristen is going through some o’dat misery right now. Bring on the pain!
Ouch. I’ll bet you can predict the weather now a little bit. I’m encouraged to hear of others revisiting abandoned works. My abandoned works are short stories. Because they’re not novels, I feel they should probably just be taken out back and shot instead of reset. They’re still lurking around though while I’m focusing on hammering away at my first YA novel.
Love the analogy 🙂
What fun. Not having your hand smashed to pieces, but your hilarious recounting of the incident. Reminded me of when I broke my little toe and my doc came back after taking X-rays and touched my foot. He asked how much it hurt and was gently rubbing below the toe, then suddenly grabbed it and pulled it in place. After I stopped screaming, he said, “That’s what we call vocal anesthetic.”
Lest anyone think my doctor was an ogre, he really was the best doctor ever. He said he could have given me an anesthetic and I could have spent a lot more time there recovering from it, but he thought the quick fix worked best. So did I after that initial pain wore down to a dull roar.
As you so aptly put it, Clay, some messes can be put back together if we are willing to go through the reconstruction.
My doctor did the same thing for a dislocated toe I had once. Didn’t hurt though like a broken digit would.
As someone who has broken her collar bone three times (and each finger at sometime or other playing basketball or baseball), I get that. But to HAVE THEM BROKEN? Not fun. Who knew your mashed hand would make a brilliant metaphor, though…
And you know I’m dying to hear the rest of the story re Dash.
Good to see you chez KL, Clay!
You are such a wonderful disaster.
You GO! Stacy!
Yes. I have two. Working on plot development currently. I decided, in my ultimate wisdom, that I didn’t need any structure when writing the first drafts of both novels, and what do you think happened?Creeping rot in the middle. I am sure it is no surprize to anyone that this happens to most writers, or so I have heard. Now I am attempting to go back and restructure them so they actually build conflict, tension and all the other fun things that sort of went to mush in the middle. Argh! Wish me luck. Plot lines protect me. Inspiration aviail me. Damn, where is that chocolate.
Yes. I have two. Working on plot development currently. I decided, in my ultimate wisdom, that I didn’t need any structure when writing the first drafts of both novels, and what do you think happened?Creeping rot in the middle. I am sure it is no surprize to anyone that this happens to most writers, or so I have heard. Now I am attempting to go back and restructure them so they actually build conflict, tension and all the other fun things that sort of went to mush in the middle. Argh! Wish me luck. Plot lines protect me. Inspiration avail me. Damn, where is that chocolate.
Talk about wincing during the post. Rebreaking – that did it for me.
I just pulled out a story (not my first cause that did win a pub contract – sorry) but my second. Talk about horrible! I’m so glad I took time to learn my craft. I just signed a contract for my second novella so that means I’m doing something right 😉
I had the bright idea to take the horrible novel and turn it into a novella. I only needed to slash 50K words and do some minor tweaking. Right? Wrong. I’m basically rewritting. Somehow that seems harder than starting from scratch.
Well, I suppose I’m happy for you *throws up in mouth a little bit* 😉
Lordy lordy lordy…reminds me of the time I broke my wrist whilst bathing the dog. I screamed. Dog whined. And dripped. Doctor didn’t take pain seriously until I threatened a foot in his face should he approach. The frying pan, hmnn, that would’ve been a good alternative.
And yes, I’m with the majority here in the midst of major surgical repair of my thriller WIP.
And daily I scream. Dog whines. Manuscript drips.
Loved this post!
loved your reply, Amy!
Ha, thanks Amy. Glad you survived the pain.
Are those two guys who worked on your hand available to hold me down and force me to edit my clunker “Table for two and a half”? It just needs a better plot, more realistic characters, a better plot, workable dialogue and did I mention the plot?
No word on their schedule but they’re definitely effective everything breakers.
I just went through this. Now I’m rereading the book for the (hopefully) final time.
There was no other choice to make. It had to be done to save the book.
I took it one chapter at a time. Don’t rush it. Anything I cut, I put into another document title by chapter, so if I needed to use it, it was there. Keep the original doc. Be patient. It takes time to find your own groove on how to work it. Before you know it, you’ll be half way through the book.
I’m currently taking a break from the second draft of my work in progress. We’ve had issued. We have a love/hate relationship. By the time I get back to it, I hope we’ll be completely in love again, but we have to take some time apart to evaluate our relationship.
In all seriousness, I think it’s a good idea to take a break but not too long of one. (No need to forget about it after 5 or 6 years and think…hmmm… wonder what happened. 🙂 )
Revision is painful but important. I just discussed revision on my blog yesterday. It’s not as witty as this story, but it’s a checklist I’m using to go over my particular novel. It needs a remodel, and I’m hoping a final one, but we’ll see!
Emerald, post the URL for your blog – I need all the help I can get!
Hope it helps!
Look at you, Fryber Clay. Makin’ in to the big time! Woot woot!
This piece is wonderful. You had a mashed ampersand hand?!
(There, I just interrobanged you. All better.)
As you know, I’ve been working on Manny the Manuscript for a long time now. He pisses me off, but I keep working on him. If only you could come over to snap, crackle and pop him into shape. 😉
Clever you interrobanger. Unfortunately I’m more the broken than the fixer. But you can tell Manny I’m at least bigger than him.
Holy Clay, your story made me cringe, but it’s a timely one for me. My latest ms was driving me crazy. I had finished the first draft and I hated it. I wanted to kick it to the curb. I had outlined so well before I started (or so I thought). I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. But my brilliant crit partners pointed out I didn’t know my main character as well as I should. So I’ve stepped back, done some productive daydreaming and sorted out who she really is. This has helped tremendously. Now the revision doesn’t seem so overwhelming.
Dash might have life in it yet. Thanks for the post.
Hey Trish. Those crit peeps are the equivalent of Dr. Pain eh?
Clay,I was actually relieved that it was your paw and not that sweet kitten’s paw in the picture you were writing about! Boy,I’m a true friend,huh?! *laughing a shameful,evil laugh infront of my kids*
Great point to a horrific story. No tears,eh? Hmmm. I may pinch you to check for human status. 🙂 It’s a tough call to make during pain,to push forward or jump off for help.
Ugh, broken bones. *shudder* Never happened to me, hope it never will. As for the first novel, yep, I’ve got one. I have attempted major rebreaking revisions several times over the past ten years and each time I barely got five chapters in before I hit a wall that required I go back to the beginning and rebreak it again. That novel is dead and buried. I’ve moved on. Actually, when people ask how many books I’ve written, I don’t even count that one. I have disowned it.
Hey, Clay, I’ve got seven of those puppies. Trouble is, I’m not sure if they’re even worth trying to revive. Sometimes a fresh start is better.
Hi David. I thought about that while writing this post. Part of me wants to say be realistic. Sometimes you just have a sucky novel that needs to be walked up those guillotine stairs. But there’s the other part that recognizes how sometimes a jewel is unearthed out of the grimy sludge. Listening to others who know writing and care about us helps discern whether we’ve got a condemned prisoner or ray of light.
Thanks for this. It’s very confirming. I was working on the 3rd chapter of my novel and realized I’d made a wrong turn a good ways back. I struggled between pressing on and coming back to address the issue in the 1st revision or bringing my “progress” to a halt, sucking it up and getting things on track. I chose the latter but only after wasting a lot of time in indecision. Had I read this post then, well…, you know. Thanks.
LOVE the way you write and I laughed – which I rarely do after reading anyone’s blog. My first book was a whopping 110,000 words and I thought it was sooo good! NOT! It took two years of paring it down to its current 60,000 and it is now a book I’m proud of.
Thanks for the post.
Happy to make you laugh!
You definitely have a humorous voice. Slap that into a novel and I’ll be happy to buy it!
Owwwww…. been there, done that – the novel, not the hand, thank goodness. And came through it relatively unscathed, and with a book that was waaaaaayyyyy better, thanks to Holly Lisle. No, I don’t know Holly, and I’m not an affiliate, but her How to Revise your Novel workshop is The. Best. Ever. It’s not cheap, but so worth it – and I bet it can save your book. (I don’t want to link so it doesn’t look spammy, but should be easy to find in a search). Thanks for giving me some laughs (and cringes), and good luck with your rewrite!
Oh my gosh.
I’m so mad at those ER doctors right now. I can’t believe they didn’t fix your hand when they had the chance. Grrrrrr.
What a painful experience *shudder* I can’t believe you had to go through that.
Now I hope this writing experience won’t be half that bad. And that your shiny, new, awesome novel that you’ll have at the end of it will make it all worth it.
Kristen – thanks for asking Clay to guest post. He is brilliant! His words and stories are so helpful to all of us writers out there. THANK YOU, CLAY!
For me if a work has gotten to that point, going back to it would mean scrapping the whole thing and starting over. If I walked away in the first place, I didn’t love it enough to stick with it. And in most cases I’ve got other projects I’m way more interested in and passionate about. Some books just have to be declared DOA and you call them a learning experience and move on.
Having been a lifelong Pirates fan, you had the benefit of dealing with a certain amount of pain and misery (although look at them now!). Cool piece, Clay. You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire. Good for you.
Ah, the Pirates pain. Thanks for noticing 🙂 Many irons indeed. Hopefully I don’t burn the house down in the process.
I wrote an entire novel once and I wasn’t in love with it but it was okay. And the perfect idea to make it work came to me, so I started over. It was so worth it as I was totally in love with it afterward.
Bingo! I have a dozen novels that I’ll never, ever, finish.
At the time they were great ideas. But my writing has grown since then, and I just could not go back to them now. So they sit, in a pile. Maybe some time I will do something with them. When I get some more experience.
But right now I’m in a spot where I’ve got too much experience to be able to work with them, and not enough to be able to work with them, if that makes any sense.
You, my friend, make me want to break my first bone. Just think of all the raw material for stories!
Yeah, I’ve got my first baby locked in a drawer somewhere and surprisingly DCFS hasn’t showed up to take me to prison yet. I figure I’ll publish seven novels before I even consider returning to it. It’ll be terrible to go through, but it’ll have the literary equivalent of a Hippocratic Oath behind it.
Small problem: I haven’t published one novel yet, let alone six more.
Ouch Kristen I can’t imagine how painful that was. I have an early (ten years ago) MG novel that is the only story hubby really likes but boy is it messy. From time to time I think of going back to it, but I write such different stories now. It’s a head-hopping disaster but some of the sub-plots are so fab I know I’ll have to go back to it one day. So many people say leave them alone and you hear from famous authors how many novels they have abandoned but well done you getting yours seen after all. You just never know do you?
I’m still mashing my first ms into shape, but I’m about ready to put it under the bed where it belongs. This blog was timely though as I’m about 25% finished with a rough draft (different ms) and today I gave in and began to try to string the holes together. I didn’t want to do it. I had this idea that I should write it all the way through and then edit once. Crazy, I know. But the holes just grew too big and I couldn’t go any farther. Guess pain can be a good thing!
Just about to go through some mind cracking pain myself. Finished the plot of a sequel and pretty happy with it. While I was rummaging around on my hard drive saving the plot line I stumbled across the first chapter of a work I put together at least ten years ago.
I kicked back and read through it, thought it was pretty good. Pulled out chapters two and three. Hey, this could be a winner, really good. Grabbed the whole MS, then it dawned on me. I had really worked hard on the first three to make that so important first impression but … the remaining forty eight chapters were pure tripe. Really awful. I groaned.
That said, I think the opening characters are so intriguing and the plot so much potential that I’m going to finish the sequel to my last novel and then come back to it. Better get that rusty bone saw out 🙂
Oh my goodness, this just happened to me. I had this overwhelming feeling that my draft of a middle-grade novel just wasn’t right! After poring over it several times and wanting to bang my head repeatedly against the keyboard, I sent it off to my beautiful niece who acted as my beta reader. When I saw her frank comments, I thought, Yes! Then I read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat and thought, Yes! Then I realized that I need to totally rework this novel and thought, No!!! But I must. And I will. Your post was a great kick-in-the-pants for me. I’m thinking, “Yes!”
Whoa, man that had to hurt like hell Clay. *shudder*
I have my first draft of my first novel from nanowrimo, and it sucks. However, I think if I ever learn to write and plot appropriately that the seed idea is good and can be salvaged into a good book. Then again, maybe I’m delusional. B^/
Thanks for a grin today. I do have a mss. I love that has a problem. Everyone who’s read it tells me the villain is too obvious. Worse, it’s the first of a trilogy, so I really need it to engage the reader so much the next book will be an easy sale.
Oh, I have three false starts of novels that I have great ideas for but can’t get past 15k. I may get back to them…but the taste of neglect is so sour that abandoning them and starting fresh may be the best way. Sometimes pain is good…it serves a purpose. And sometimes it’s just masochistic. (Which, ironically, may still serve a purpose…)
I listened to an RWA 2009 Workshop tape yesterday while running errands. I can hook up my i-phone /i-pod to the Aux on the car and play it from there. Topic: voice. Kristen, I do enjoy your voice! My initial thought in checking this blog today? “I don’t have time to read this” …but your writing held me! I enjoyed the read thoroughly. Having been an ER nurse, I appreciate the agony of the experience, and can relate it easily to the revision process. The greatest thing I’ve learned about revision? Do the line edits and style corrections last. You might not use it, so don’t waste time on it until you know you want to keep the scene etc. I am working on manuscript no. 3, and it may be coming together after 5 years of workshops, conferences, etc. Once I get through your blog class, that is.
I feel your pain! My first manuscript has had more face lifts than Joan Rivers. Fortunately, I kept writing other manuscripts and one of them sold. Along the way, I’ve learned enough about writing to assess which of the old manuscripts are fixable and which aren’t. It’s a process, for sure.
Congrats Clay, how exciting to be a guest blogger on Kristen’s blog! What a dynamic, fun duo!
You definitely had me shuddering while reading about your hand. Yikes! Glad both your hand and writing ability have mended. It’s a good thought process to make us go through though. I’m still in those very early stages, and regardless of what happens (though of course I’d LIKE it to be published) I do need to write this book. I need to get this first one out. For now, we’ll keep plugging away.
Ouch! I’m not ready yet to face the task of reworking my previous novels. I’d rather practice on writing them. However, it’s a task that’s as daunting as moving a mountain using a teaspoon or cleaning the entire room using a toothbrush.
My first was the same – unmitigated mess as far as structure (and much of the prose) was concerned. It languished for a couple of years until I understood the need for proper structure, wrote enough to not freak out when slicing entire chunks of manuscript and had enough other words under my belt to realise it was doable.
Now I keep two projects on the go at the same time. I’ve just finished the first draft of my fourth book. To get my mind completely out of it before I go back to the rewrite/revise/repeat cycle I’m spending the next six weeks (started this past weekend) researching, planning and plotting the fifth. My brain will be so buried in it that by the time I get back to the fourth it will be like looking at a book I haven’t seen in years.
(I broke my left hand – also a southpaw – a few decades ago by punching the padded wall of an elevator. It wasn’t really padded. No ampers-hand, thank God, so I haven’t had to have it re-broken. And I didn’t go see anybody at the time because who likes to admit they did something so stupid as punching an unpadded elevator wall?)
Ouch. I’ve learned that the more time away, the better for the editing/rewrite time. Good to do what you’re doing and go onto the next project. I’m glad your hand isn’t crooked.
Having broken and bashed my body to the point of ongoing chronic pain (maybe I should find less dangerous hobbies) I understand the broken hand bit all too well, but you certainly captured the humor of a dark situation. Bravo! It is better to look back and laugh than to lament.
As for writing, I am still struggling with one of my darling manuscripts. It has been through six edits, but I finally think I have figured out what it really needs. I’m letting my subconscious work on it now while I focus my efforts on a newer book that actually generated interest with the first agent to look at it. Eventually, I will go back and rebreak that book to bits. When the bones are set, I hope it heals nicely. 🙂
What a great analogy between a damaged hand and damaged writing. Your pain purchased some very clever symbolism.
Clay, you are an inspiration. For months now I’ve been trying to put together a manuscript based on my blog. It’s not a novel, but I don’t think it falls squarely into the nonfiction category, either, and I keep losing momentum and putting it down. I just start to feel stupid working on it. But this post has inspired me to stop worrying about the unknowns, finish a presentable manuscript, write a query letter, get it out there, and see what happens. Thank you, and congratulations on becoming a warrior writer, if only for a day. I’m enjoying watching your writing career develop…and taking notes.
Thanks Mark. One of the toughest things is to get the agents and editors and coaches out of our heads so we can just write. Get that first draft done and then face all the voices between us and pub. You are good. Really good. End of story.
Why does resetting have to be so painful? What a great analogy for writing and for life.
Here’s a question, I have an idea which I have plotted out, defined and scoped characters, defined the conflict lock and clearly have the final scene in my mind. Should I work towards this being my first book to throw all my efforts in, knowing that quite likely my skills will be poor and it may well fall short of my expectations? Or should I let it settle, look at shorter pieces and other ideas that I have floating around? Thoughts anyone? Help is appreciated! Thanks!