litterbox liningPosted: April 25, 2011
|“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.” – Winston Churchill|
I sent out copies of my manuscript to a few friends recently. I let a couple of my buddies from Iraq read it, mainly for fact checking. Their feedback was very enthusiastic, perhaps overly so. Then again, they’re a pretty cranky lot and they lived through most of the worst moments with me. Not exactly the most impartial audience.
A couple of close friends are reading it right now. I get random texts/emails when they stumble across something that amuses or intrigues them. But they’re pompom wavers for the most part.
I also sent a copy to an old friend from grad school. He has several published articles. His first book should hit the shelves sometime soon. He got his PhD a few years ago, after working with the most brilliant professor in LSU’s History department. He knows how to write. We weren’t the best of friends, but we were more than acquaintances. I knew he would give me an honest assessment of my manuscript.
I got back a six page critique last Friday, along with the 100 pages (which were dripping with red ink). He gave me a good and proper smashing. I deserved it. I desperately needed some constructive literary input, and he provided plenty. I knew I would have to make some major cuts in order to whip this book into shape, but it looks like a complete rewrite might be the only thing that salvages it.
Some of his gripes are easily remedied (formatting, phrasing, typos, etc.). Other aspects will be a struggle, hence the need for a complete rewrite. His biggest beef is my tone. After giving his comments some thought, I wholeheartedly agree with him. Initially, this was a painful realization – so much so that I didn’t reread his comments for a couple of days. I had to steel my resolve to pick it up again. That first reading stung, because I knew he was right. But subsequent reviews of his comments didn’t bother me so much. It’s actually the best kick in the pants I’ve had for my writing since my first semester of grad school. There’s an excerpt from his critique that I’m never going to forget, because it shook me to my core. If it wasn’t so long I’d consider getting it as a tattoo, so it could serve as a permanent reminder to get over myself:
“Your lack of personal confidence comes through in your writing. You’re your own worst enemy. Any good writer should be self deprecating. But there’s a fine line between self-deprecation and self-loathing. You don’t seem to like yourself very much. And since you don’t, how are we supposed to like you? … (You either need to) embrace your inner asshole or write with more compassion. I think of Bukowski: he could be a monster, but there was some compassion in his writing that overcame his worst tendencies. I don’t see that kind of compassion here. Bukowski was a poet, and that gave his writing a lightness and beauty that kept his realism from getting too ugly. You need more poetry and less ugliness in this manuscript.
I’m sure your intention was different, but in these pages you come across as racist, sexist, xenophobic, bitter, immature, and most of all – angry. Is this how you want others to perceive you? I’m not sure if your anger was due to the lack of sleep you got in Iraq or the fact that you were working 84 hours a week, or both. Whatever the reason for the exhausting, unrelenting misanthropy in these pages, you’re misrepresenting yourself.”
And there you have it. Before I “put pen to paper” again (albeit in a virtual, electronic sense), I’m taking a step back. I need to purge myself of counterproductive influences (bad habits and negative people need to go away ASAP). I’m rereading some Bukowski and Hemingway, because they are the masters of the style that I aspire for. Simply put, they didn’t screw around when it came to their presentation. Their sentences snapped. There wasn’t any fat in their good books. When they were angry, there was good reason for it.
On the other hand, I told a lot, but I didn’t show much. As a result, I didn’t give proper context for most of my frustrations over there. And then there’s just other stuff that’s simply whiny angst. It needs to go away, along with a bunch of other boring, repetitive junk. Once I’m done with a few weeks of “reeducation,” I’ll hack my old manuscript to pieces and start over. Hopefully I can find a story worth sharing once it’s done.
In the meantime, I wish everyone with a copy of that old manuscript would shred it or use it for litterbox lining. Whatever works.