Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Health Inspector Cometh and Why You Shouldn't Put Off That Writing Project

In the midst of the end of the school year craziness (and I won't bore you with all that means), the health inspector called to set up an appointment to inspect my house. Yes, it's true. As part of our adoption home study, we had to have the fire inspector and the health inspector out for a visit. I didn't mind the fire inspector so much. We've got smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. What could he possibly find to criticize?

The health inspector, however, freaked me out.

Don't get me wrong, my house is no pig sty. It's relatively neat and clean (unless you count deadline days...I don't). It's just that the thought of someone coming in, opening closest and cupboards, checking for hidden dirt and clutter and secret ugliness bothers me. In preparation for THE DAY, I frantically cleaned out every cupboard and every closet, I scrubbed tubs and sinks, swept floors and forced my poor husband to install the toilet in our downstairs bathroom (which is currently under construction). In other words, I cleaned more in three days than I generally do in two weeks.

When the inspector arrived I was ready. I don't know what I was expecting (maybe a white glove wearing, clip board carrying member of the clean team). What I got was a very nice twenty-something guy who sauntered into my house, checked my hot water to make sure it was working, measured my daughter's bedroom, measured our bathroom, asked where I kept toxic substances, checked our play fort for sturdiness and left.

Very anticlimactic. See, it seems that the health inspector was looking for reasons to give us a passing inspection rather than searching for reasons to fail us. Go figure.

So, here's the thing...and yes, friends, I can relate this to writing.

There are times when I put off writing related projects because I just know every word is going to be scrutinized and found lacking. I'm sure that editors and agents are searching for problems and looking for a reason to reject me. I'll waffle around, not completing a proposal, or completing it and not sending it in because I'm terrified of having all my dirty little writing secrets revealed and being shown as the fraud I am (Shirlee McCoy - author impersonator). If I allow myself to, I can sit on projects for several months.

Unfortunately, time is not an authors friend.

In the end rationality and practicality win out (why write if I'm not going to let my words be seen?) and I send my projects out, heading to the post office with sweaty palms, churning stomach, and the certainty that I am about to be rejected and eviscerated.

Meanwhile in New York, my editor is busily reading her pile of manuscripts. Though one might picture a curmudgeon, gloomily eying the to-be-read pile with various amounts of cynicism, that couldn't be further from the truth. Let me assure you that she is not wearing thick rimmed glasses and a scowl, she is not a card carrying member of the red pen society, and she does not have a giant "rejected because you stink as a writer so please don't ever submit to me again!" stamp clutched in her hand. Like the health inspector who was looking for reasons to give my house a passing grade, my editor is looking for reasons to give manuscripts space on book shelves. Her job isn't to find bad manuscripts, but to find good ones. Sure she notices when a plot isn't working or characters are weak, but she also notices when writers have promise, talent, and that special spark that makes their stories come to life. She isn't red-lining every mistake, keeping a journal and computer log about who misspelled which words how many times. Of course, she must reject more manuscripts than she buys, but what makes her happy is reading those manuscripts that stand out as just a cut above the rest.

If, like me, you worry and sweat over sending your baby off to be scrutinized, relax. Things aren't nearly as scary as they might seem. In the end, good storytelling wins out every time. So, write your stories, make them sing, then send them off. You may be surprised at how painless it all really is!


Sabrina L. Fox said...

As I sit waiting to hear from Krista, I will say I don't find it painless at all, sister. LOL.

But I get what you're saying. We're our own worst enemy sometimes. Glad to see you back. I was wondering where you were.

Praying the adoption thing goes smoothly. =)Keep us posted. I'm excited for you.

Shirlee McCoy said...

You're quick, Sabrina. LOL

It isn't painless. You're right about that. It's scary. And the sad thing is, it doesn't get easier. I'm published and I'm still terrified. ;0)

The adoption stuff is daunting. The paperwork is insane. But, then, I've learned a lot about determination during my writing years, so this shouldn't be too bad (right? Right.).

Mindy Obenhaus said...

Great thoughts, Shirlee. Thanks.