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Thursday, 22 March 2012

Knurd to Writer’s Block


Unless you’re a hardcore Terry Pratchett fan, you are probably wondering what knurd is. Knurd, on Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, is an extreme state of sobriety, where all the pink illusions we comfort ourselves with are stripped away to leave stark, bare reality. It is described as being all the way through sobriety and out the other side. Someone who is knurd needs a couple of drinks just to be sober. Put simply, it's the complete and absolute (not Absolut! ha!) opposite of drunk. In fact, read it backwards...

So what do I mean when I talk about the knurd to writer’s block (assuming writer’s block is a state of drunkenness).

I’m referring to someone who has so many writing ideas, and is so dedicated to the idea of their craft, they become paralysed by indecision. I think this complex is tied to perfectionism. And I am guilty as charged.

Because last week I had a serious case of writer’s knurd. 

I realised this when I I was struck by recognition that I have eight short stories and one novel, none of which are finished. I mean, they are finished in the sense they have a beginning, middle and an end. But I have never completed the editing process. Which is not to say I haven’t edited them to the end. Because I have. Many times. I just… keep editing.

It kind of goes like this:
 
Step 1 – Write story.
Step 2 – Revise story.
Step 3 – Give story to alpha and beta readers.
Step 4 – Consider feedback and revise and edit as needed.
Step 5 – repeats Step 1 – 4.

And there should be a Step 6 – Finished, but there isn’t! Why not? Two reasons:
  • I’m constantly trying to improve the work. Part of this stems from the fact I am nearly always studying my craft, learning new things, seeing old errors in the work and then wanting to correct them. The other part is just a complete inability to recognise when the work is finished i.e. no longer needs improving. 
  •  I don’t know what to do when I get polar opposite feedback from my readers, and I mean polar opposite e.g. ‘I love this’ versus ‘this is terrible’.
So I went into emotional meltdown when I realised all this, or otherwise had a knurd moment, and suddenly reality was so tangibly real I couldn’t cope. I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t see how to fix this. OK, so I’m a control freak who always knows the answer (or at least has a strategy that might lead to the answer) and this is most likely a contributing factor. 

Not knowing what else to do, I sought advice from some people I know, and what I got back helped. 

Summed up, it went like this:
  • Are you a perfectionist? Because you might have to let go of that;
  • Don’t listen to the critics and be true to yourself;
  • Don’t let someone else edit your own voice out of your work;
  • There is no way to know when a piece of work is finished; you just have to decide that it is; and
  • You are a perfectionist, I know this. Creative writing is an art, like the performing arts, and often the pursuit of perfection is encouraged but is ultimately unattainable. Recognise that.
Probably no one piece of advice I got was enough on its own, but together they all helped me to get some perspective. So I came up with some rules:
  • Disregard any feedback which is not supported by at least two readers. For better or worse, if it is a solitary opinion I will treat it as a subjective opinion until someone else agrees there is an issue. For my own sanity;
  • I will not entertain changes that don’t feel right to me. I don’t mean of the variety of ‘My writing is perfect and nothing needs to be changed’ but more the variety of ‘If I make these changes I will be changing the very nature of the piece’. Or, put another way, it would destroy my voice. Someone else might write the same story a very different way, but it doesn’t mean my way isn’t right for me, or that either way is better. Just that I am writing with my voice and not the voice of another! 
As for finishing… I’ll just need to let go of my perfectionism. That may be easier said than done, coming from the black and white legal background I do, but I will try. 

I would like to give a shout out to the people who generously gave advice last week; @sirra_girl, @JustinBog, @DionneLister, @CharityParkerso, @RachelintheOC, @amberrisme, @wxmouse, and Erin, my friend since 1994 at school. 

And a special shoutout to @LydiaAswolf for helping me to hear my voice. Because of you, I won’t be making wholesale changes to a short story I wrote.

Thank you all and apologies to anyone I might have missed.

 
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7 comments:

M. Andrew Patterson said...

Well said!

Lydia said...

Nor should you. Without you...because in essence, you ARE your voice, and your stellar work reflects that, you should never amputate any of it. It would be cutting off your nose to spite your face. And though I am happily married (hence NOT hitting on you) you have a gorgeous face. Don't mar it. Now or ever.

Clare Davidson said...

I also don't know how/when to let go of my work. I've decided that my current draft (4) is THE LAST ONE before I send it out. Even that's a bit of a lie, because sections of the WIP have had more work than others for various reasons, so I'm really on draft 4.3, lol! And you're absolutely right, you can't let other people edit your voice out of your work. I'll have to remember that one myself. Thanks for sharing this :)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Thanks for the encouragement.I think it always helps to know other people struggle with the same issues, , although that seems a slittle sadistic now I think about it LOL  You have impeccable taste ;-)

Ciara Ballintyne said...

You are abnsolutely right, and you've helped me to realise that! I promise not to cut off my nose LOL

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Not letting people edit my voice out was a hard lesson to learn. I had a hard time working out what voice was and then an even harder time learning what mine sounded like, so I'm sure I was letting people edit my voice out. I am on draft 4 of deathhawk's Betrayal which was supposed to be my last but now I've just sent it out to more betas.

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