Monday, June 24, 2013

A Polished Pan, a Painful Illness and Writing

I roasted some chicken, then finished it off in the broiler.  The drippings burned and cemented themselves to my pan.  (Should have used tin foil…) I scrubbed hard, and a few of these lava-like rocks came off, but not enough for the pan to be used again.  I soaked it overnight.  Still, too much refused to budge.  I plopped more soap in and soaked it again.  More scouring only turned the Brillo pad’s pink soap into gray sludge, and gave me 'scrubber’s elbow.'  I wondered if it was time to trash it.

Something said ‘Try again – one more time.’  One more overnight soak, another hefty dose of aerobic elbow grease, and… it came clean.  Not only clean, but polished.  

Aaah, my writing lesson of the week – that’s how I should approach the manuscript I was thinking of abandoning.  Give it a little more brain-soak time, and a serious revision scour, again and then again.   That's how my process works.   For my current picture book project, that means considering a new creative non-fiction element.  Sometimes the process feels like I'm floating in gray sludge and those bits that don't work won't come out of my manuscript.  Then a piece of it comes up polished and ooh, that feels good!   

Two famous writers who, per Ariel's wish, did 'complain' about the writing process: 

"Easy reading is damn hard writing."  Nathaniel Hawthorne  

George Orwell's perspective is my favorite:

Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.  One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand. 
George Orwell, Why I Write (1947)

Success stories are based on all this hard work.  Robin’s new book The Promise of Amazing is one inspirational story, wonderfully close to home.  

Scrub your manuscript clean of extra words, unworkable plot points, unnecessary scenes.  Abrade your writing.  It may have to soak on your desk for longer than you'd think.  Let it.   

When it’s polished, it will be beautiful, like a shiny clean pan in which you've roasted a sumptuous meal of love, mystery or another reader's delight.    

If anyone figures out how to line a manuscript with tin foil, let me know. 


  1. Ha! Well said. Scrubbing stinks, but when you finally hit that shining, glistening moment, whether it's on a pot or a manuscript, you know you were right to keep working.

    So here I am, encouraging you to keep working on that sucker until you can see yourself!

  2. I love tin foil! =) Congrats on overcoming the pan. I have been guilty more than one time of just throwing them out...

  3. Nice post!

    Another thought: if only we could wrap OURSELVES in tin foil - a safeguard from the burn of those painful rejections.

  4. When you find some of that tin foil, Julie, let me know. Writing fiction is one of the most humbling things I've ever done. Sometimes I wish I DIDN'T feel compelled to do it. I usually think of it more as cooking than cleaning. I have this fantasy that one day I'll take it out of the oven and it will be a steaming, fragrant, golden yellow cake, perfect for delectation.

  5. I agree Ariel! I'm looking for the perfect cake too, figuratively and really. I think of the cleaning process as revision really. Cooking is the first draft.
    And Gale, yes, tin foil to repel rejections would be wonderful.
    Just looking for those glistening moments of writing! Thanks for the encouragement Judy and Leandra.

  6. Julie

    Scrubbing is a great term for the writer's job of cleaning the manuscript until fit for use and consumption! And letting the words sit and soak is good advice too! Time and elbow grease!