I met with my friend Patrick yesterday. I’d sent him my first, re-worked book chapter and he’d gone through it with a comb and a set of brilliantly sharp teeth. This isn’t free by the way – just because he’s my friend. To sort my mess out costs time and money.
‘You know,’ he began, ‘you remind me a bit of Dickens.’
Wow, this was starting positively. ‘I do?’
‘Since you keep setting up your scene with long swathes of description and then moving into the action. You don’t have to do that anymore by the way. We’re modern readers now. We are used to instant action.’
‘And I’m not sure if you’re aware of this, but your overly-friendly background narration has a sort of Raymond Chandler-noir appeal. But unless you’re Raymond Chandler, I’d think twice about keeping it that way. I keep expecting you to jump out with a Humphrey Bogart line just to complete the genre.’
My brain began to mush around inside my head. Everything he was saying to me was true. Painful but true. I couldn’t tell yet if I wanted to yell with joy or smash my head against the wall. Neither probably appropriate in the university library.
He peered over the library computer. ‘Are you ok?’
I lent my head against a pillar. ‘What makes you think I’m not?’
‘No reason. Except for the look on your face. No one is forcing you to do this you know.’
‘What are you talking about? I have to do this.’
‘That’s just weird. I always say if you don’t want to do something, you shouldn’t have to do it.’
‘You obviously don’t live my life.’
‘What, are you saying that you have such a hard life?’
‘Duh! That’s what my blog is for.’
He gave me an appraising look. ‘Shall we go through the rest of your chapter?’
I learned a lot in my hour. Mostly I learned that the thousands of hours I wrangle with rebellious sentences are not. worth. one. second. of. it. There is a delete button for a reason. If anything feels problematic, he pointed out, it usually is. Ha! If I’d reminded him of Raymond Chandler, now Patrick’s advice was reminding me of comedian Tiffany Haddish. I heard her say recently that your first instinct, the first impression you get: that’s God. Everything afterwards is up to you.
What a woman. I love listening to her. Her mum’s car accident at nine-years-old left her looking after her younger siblings until the authorities finally intervened. Years of living in foster care afterwards, hoping each foster family would be her last. Carrying all her worldly possessions in a trash bag. Which made her feel like trash. And all the while, finding that comedy was her safe place. Comedy! Fantastic or what.
I left Patrick with a renewed sense of purpose.
He left probably needing headache medication. ‘I’m not a therapist you know.’
‘You should consider it. I’m going off now to tear every single thing I’ve ever written into small pieces.’