Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Running from the Weasel

So, on the first day of the year, a year in which I've promised to finish my rewrites and edits on Heirs of Mâvarin and the Mages of Mâvarin trilogy and get the books sold, I barely even glanced at the first page of the first chapter of the first book. Instead I spent many hours rewatching a couple of Doctor Who episodes plus deleted scenes, reading blogs and message boards, IMing three different people, tweaking a few Wikipedia articles, searching for my keys (found 'em!) and suffering through a fairly obnoxious BBC Radio One podcast to get to a two minute interview.

Is it laziness? Is it my Doctor Who obsession getting in the way of productivity?

No. It certainly looks that way, but that's not it.

It was avoidant behavior, brought on by fear.

Fear of the Weasel.

I've written about the Inner Weasel before. It's that nasty defeatist voice inside a writer's head, or in anyone, the one that says what you're working on is no good, that it will never be any good, that you may as well give up now. The name comes from a discussion on an AOL sf writing message board about eight years ago. The Inner Weasel, also known as the Inner Critic, is the Superego gone wild. It sees every flaw and sternly points them out. If someone else criticizes your work, it believes every word; but it ignores any incoming praise. The Inner Weasel holds you to a higher standard, all the while claiming that you will never crawl that high.

It's daft of me, I know, but even though I believe in the novels, the characters and my own writing ability, I find it all too easy to listen to the Weasel. This has been especially true since September, when the DAW first reader rejected Heirs and my life got difficult with Tuffy's cancer and the challenges of the new job.

In a way it was the right thing to do, but I actually gave the Weasel more power shortly after that. Discouraged about the rejection letter, I brought in a new beta reader, and asked two of my existing ones to try to read Heirs Chapter One as if the story were new to them. The resulting advice was highly contradictory, and the Weasel absorbed all of it, and read it back to me at every opportunity. I undertook a major overhaul of the chapter, which was already on its 5,047th draft, but nothing I did pleased the Weasel. Every cut and every addition, inspired by the advice of one reader or another, took the chapter farther away from what someone else liked. So I gave it up, made excuses, didn't open the document for weeks at a time, or opened it and didn't look at it. And of course I felt guilty about this. It was like the Weasel kept telling me. I wasn't really a writer, since clearly I wasn't writing. I was just pretending. I would never get it published. "Write something else, something different," John advised me for the 500th time, and didn't understand why I found the advice so depressing and soul-killing.

But this is 2008, a chance to start over. And why should I fear a fictional weasel? This is where that affirmations stuff kinda makes sense to me. If I can dump the fear and believe in myself, I've clearly got a much better chance of accomplishing something than if I let myself hide from the Weasel by hiding from my fiction writing.

Okay, so it took until about 2 AM on January 2nd to actually start work on the chapter.

And it wasn't so bad. I trimmed a phrase here, a sentence there, cut half a paragraph and moved up the bit about Shela. It all worked. It all improved the flow of the thing.

A tengrem. Art by Sherlock

What about the lack of dramatic tension J talked about? the Weasel asked.

Shut up, I said. Clearly the boy in the tree is foreshadowed as being about to come face to face with an insane fire-breathing monster, and does so on page seven. That should be dramatic enough for anyone. I'm not going to invent false tension or fake action before that. It will only get in the way and delay things.

What about the teenagers who should be in the hunting party? the Weasel asked.

There are two seventeen-year-olds with the hunters. They just don't get mentioned 'cause they don't have a line, I said.

What about Suri's sheep? the Weasel asked. You already cut the dialogue of him worrying about them, and now you've cut the fact that the tengrem was seen in the pasture. Nobody will even know about Suri and his sheep now.

That's all right; I know, I said. Suri's sheep aren't important to anyone but Suri.

That's what Bil says, the Weasel pointed out. Isn't that line going to confuse people now?

Oops! You're right, I said, and cut the line.

A decent start. But now I'm late for bed!


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