Monday, April 9, 2012

A Bear of Very Little Brain

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

- A. A. Milne

Apologies in advance for such a spontaneous, unstructured, rather lengthy post --- but bear with me.
If you're a writer, especially - you'll appreciate the chopsticks and #stabbylove embedded herein.

Chopsticks and Salad Forks

Yesterday I sat down to an Easter lunch with friends at a hospitable home, in front of a great bay window with a view on rolling hills, dense woodland, a glittering lake and winding paths. The table was set with lovely centerpieces, the best linen napkins, and more than the usual "eat-and-grab" arrangement of plates and silverware ~ you know, two forks, the dinner plate and the salad plate, goblets and water glass, etc.

With most of my table, I was a guest; and I was charmed by the decor and hospitality of our wonderfully gracious hosts. But the young men on either side of me were flummoxed. For one thing, their ideas of fine dining did not extend to having more than one plate, fork, or glass. The first few moments of the meal entailed me giving quiet instructions ("Start with the outermost fork and work your way in." or: "Small plate for salad and h'ors deourves; big plate for everything else."). There was a bit of comic fumbling in the beginning, but they managed. If our host noticed our emergency evasive maneuvers, she was too gracious to indicate as much.

Later the conversation drifted to another dinner guest, who is moving to South Korea later this year. She rattled off a list of things she needed to do before boarding the plane, including learning how to eat with chopsticks.

"Oh that's easy," I said. "If you can hold a pencil, you can use chopsticks. I can show you sometime."

More chatter. Conversation funneled back to me again on the topic of sign language, as everyone wanted to pick my brain about the manual alphabet, as well as several basic signs (including a few sign requests which I flatly refused). Our host sat at the end of the table and was amused (I think) at our impromptu sign language class, resulting in a silly challenge which I won easily: fingerspelling the whole alphabet with both hands at the same time.

By the end of the meal, we all joked that everyone needed to be in someone else's class, including my "classes" on chopstick use, American sign language, and fine dining etiquette.

"But I want to learn something too," I said. "What will you teach me?"

"Teach you?" said the young man to my right. "What can we teach you? You know everything!"

Oh dear.

It was meant as a compliment, of course, and I took it as such; but at the same time I wanted to shake my head and say: I don't know jack crap about a lot of things. Do you know how stupid I've been with my writing lately? --- but that would have sounded even more nerdy than fingerspelling the alphabet ambidextrously, or offering chopstick lessons. So I kept quiet.

Hello. I'm a Pooh-Bear.

I am a Bear of Very Little Brain. Especially when it comes to writing.

I am often told that I am very smart. Maybe it's true. Maybe it isn't. I have certainly spent my time perusing nerdy and esoteric reading over the years, and accumulated a lot of knowledge as as result. (You are, after all, reading the blog of a gal who in ninth grade picked up - and read - a book on how to write in italics, and thought she had discovered the mother lode of literary coolness.)

But anyone who really knows me can also put that absurd nerdiness in perspective: I have an unfortunate tendency to overlook the obvious.

This is glaringly true when it comes to my writing. In my current WIP (or, "work in progress" for you non-Twitter folk), I have been faced with the daunting challenge of combining two manuscripts into a 246,000 word behemoth (which I affectionately call my "baby walrus") and paring it down into ONE single, streamlined story that I hope to start querying later this year.

Merging Traffic

The reasoning behind merging the two manuscripts was simply this:

     Manuscript I dealt with 3 main characters: A, B and C. Character C, however, is enchanted and therefore mute until the last five chapters or so of the book.

     Manuscript II was intended to show Character C's life in her next big challenge, after she returns from her journey in Manuscript I.

     HOWEVER...Somehow Manuscript II, once written, began before the events of Manuscript I. My brain wanted to show how Character C got into her enchanted pickle. So I wrote it. Then, once I got Character C to the point where her path diverged to meet A and B, I thought: Jinkies. I should show part of Manuscript I from her point of view - shouldn't I? That would eliminate the need for a lot of the descriptive/backhistory nonesense that's bogging it down.

What a great idea! said my creative side. And it was a great idea. Still is.

But boy is it a lot of work.

Know the crazy part though?

It shouldn't have been AS much work as it's been lately. I've made it harder than necessary.

Thank you, nerdy chopstick-wielding Angela for trying to use the extra forks where they don't fit.

Don't Kick a Dead Horse

Here's the pitfall I fell into:

Manuscript II began before the events of Manuscript I. Showed C in all her dwarfish glory (yes, she's a dwarf), and how she ended up getting into a hot mess of ugly magic that pretty much derails her life for almost a full calendar year.


Once I showed her being taken away by evil villainous kidnappers, my brain wanted to barge on through and write what happened to her family while she was gone, since their adventures set the stage for Character C's adventure when she finally returns home. I got pretty far, too. About 60,000 words worth of dwarfish adventuring, for those of you who like that sort of thing.

Where's the problem?

When I merged everything into the 246,000 baby walrus, I also merged the extra adventure. I only needed the first 5000 words or so from Manuscript II to get Manuscript I off to the right start; and yet I dragged along ALL. THAT. EXTRA. LUGGAGE.

And it was Dwarf luggage, at that. I don't care what you say about dwarves being cute and short - they're heavy.  (Use dwarves sparingly in your fantasy writing. That's all I'm saying.)

All that Manuscript I needed was a new beginning. And I gave it cancer.

Hello. Did I mention that I'm a Pooh-Bear? Also, I don't know anything about baseball.

Bottom line? I've been editing out a 246,000 manuscript lately, and trying to pare it down to 80 - 100,000 words, without letting go of ANY of my plots, subplots, sidekicks or "favorite parts."

Ugh. The "favorite part" curse.

OK fellow writers - let's quote Sir Thomas Quiller-Couch together:

Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings. Kill your darlings.


So here I've been the last few weeks, gradually cutting out things here and there, when I could have cut out 60,000 from the very beginning by NOT PUTTING IT IN WHERE IT DIDN'T BELONG.

But did I think of that? Nope. Not at first.

But something yesterday triggered the "Eureka moment" that helped me through that self-imposed brick wall. It was before the luncheon - that's why I was shaking my head at myself when my friend made the "You know everything!" comment - and it was late that evening before I was able to sit down and remove what I should have never inserted in the first place: 60,000 words of dwarf-in-the-caves nutzo adventuring that had nothing to do with things that live ABOVE the ground (which is where the adventures of A, B and C take place).


The baby walrus has now been trimmed down from 246,000 words to 133,477. So it's roughly half it's original size.

Still needs about 40,000 more words off the top, just so I can rewrite and insert scenes that MATTER into the final copy without breaking the word bank (literally).

But in all this - thanks to my good friends at the dinner table yesterday - I learned two things:

     1. You only have to be hit over the head with something once. So - hopefully, this will be the only time I'll be this dense about something THIS OBVIOUS in my writing.

     2. I don't know anything about baseball.

Maybe I should sign up for classes.

Questions? Insights? Feedback?
Let me know in the comments!


  1. I could scold you, but that's rather the pot calling the kettle black. I miss the obvious as well, and I'm one of those nerdy "know-it-alls." My favorite answer to that is that I don't know it all yet, but I'll let you know when I finally do. I know how hard it is to kill your darlings, both literally and figuratively. I think you did amazing! :)

    1. Yes, it is certainly a learning process! I guess it's easy to tunnel in and overlook the obvious, when you're all balled up in the details.

      Don't know what this would look like if I hadn't take a year and a half off this one. Walking away from it for a while does help tremendously.

      Thanks for your support and encouragement! And I do want to read some of your work sometime, when you have the chance. :D

  2. Good luck and keep on plugging at it! Kill away, my dear. Kill away :)

  3. Those 'Eureka' moments... Don't they feel good AND take a huge weight off your shoulders at the same time?
    I'm reducing a YA adventure to a middle grade affair (which it should have been originally if I'd ignored my 'favourite parts' and used my common sense). I'm loving it, but those moments you read something 'again' and finally see that it doesn't matter after all are so liberating!
    Enjoy the editing!