Working on a book that you worked on years ago with an agent, in the shining hope that your submission-to-publishers would be short and sweet, and then a year ago by yourself, in the hope (again, though a more wise and worldly version of hope) that your submission-to-publishers would still be short and sweet... well. Working on the very same book because you hope it will be beautiful when it comes out and that readers will love it is, in a word, weird. In another (few) words, it's slightly terrifying, and it makes you think, while you're eyeball-deep in edits and wondering about your author photo and whether you should blog more (probably) and trying to remember the last time you slept past 5:15 am, about how the hell you got here.
Well, truth be told, I think about that a lot anyway, because that's just how I roll. But I think about it more now, particularly the writing bits, because I did a lot of writing as a kid and it did sort of prepare me for some of this, in unexpected and often mortifying ways.
I think I told this one a long time ago, but it seems worth a repeat, because man, did it stick in my head. :)
Picture a girl.
She is 12, a prickly, perpetually confused 7th grader in too-tight clothes, too much eyeshadow, and fashionably gigantic hair that takes 30 minutes and nearly half a can of aerosol hairspray to achieve. She has written what is apparently the best story from an English class assignment, titled Ollie the Alley Cat: sort of a cross between Beverly Cleary’s Socks and Dickens' Oliver Twist, only much, much shorter, and with a pack of stray dogs.
It never occurred to her she might be asked to read it aloud.
Had it, she probably would have refrained from the plaintive meows and waows that make up the bulk of the dialogue, and she definitely would have avoided the full-line, all-caps screech in the climactic scene, where brave little Ollie defends himself and a helpless human girl from the evil chain-smoking puppy gang. But she had no idea she would be forced to sit in front of the class, flashing too much leg in her too-short skirt, her shellacked hair catching a faint breeze from the hallway and moving more or less as one piece, with all those eyes on her.
Five handwritten pages in, the moment arrives.
She hesitates for a few seconds, staring at those vowels strung together in extra-dark blue ink, underlined for emphasis, and wonders what the hell she was thinking when she wrote this. How strange will it sound if she just skips this part? Can she maybe screech quietly? But it’s too late to back down now: they know what’s coming anyway. Every idiotic little meow was building to this. Balls to the wall, she decides, and utters the astoudingly stupid REEEEEEEEEEEEEEOOOOOOOOOOWWWWWWW she wrote for Ollie with –well, probably not the enthusiasm it would take for a kitten to scare off a pack of dogs, but definitely enough to startle some of her classmates out of their mid-morning doze, and make one drop his notebook. Jaws drop. There is much laughter. She finishes the last paragraph grimly, to a chorus of giggles, and sits to scattered applause that she understands is purely for the entertainment value.
1) always read your work out loud before turning it in, and
2) there are moments when tell vs. show is not only an appropriate choice, but a necessary one.
Happy Friday, peeps.