Sanding down the rough spots

This post is approximately 500 words.

I speak regularly with others about writing, many of whom love the idea, but don’t have the desire. As such, it can be challenging to find common ground – common understanding, I should say – when we talk.

I’ve found that analogies are helpful and I’m always looking for a good one. Today, as I wrote and re-wrote a chapter-end that I lamented about nearly a month ago, it occurred to me that sanding wood might be a strong analogy.

If you had woodshop in school or you’ve done a home improvement project, you’ve likely done a bit of sanding. I’m not much of a craftsman, and I always have rough spots on cut wood. So I’d sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, and then feel the spot. Sand-sand-sand-sand-sand, feel the spot.

sanding

I learned early on that focusing only the one spot led to more uneven places on the wood. Perhaps I sanded too far down or accidentally used a different grit paper. To check my work, I would place my hand a few inches before the sanded spot and run my fingers over the entire surface, beginning to end, feeling for consistency. Sand-feel-repeat.

I do the same thing in my writing, though I’m unsure the two things are connected. Maybe unconsciously.

The aforementioned chapter-end was a single paragraph of about 120 words. Mechanically, that’s a rather simple thing to edit, but as I tweeted in May, it wasn’t a great end to the section, much less the chapter. It certainly didn’t make me want to immediately start reading the next chapter, and I’m the goram author.

Each time I touched it, I went back a few paragraphs and re-read the whole ending. Edit-read-repeat. It’s a technique I’ve used in all my writing for years, including the piece before you now. Here are three benefits I appreciate:

  1. Maintains consistent feel and tone: You don’t want heavy emotional passages accidentally transforming into happy scenes.
  2. Ensures word variety: If you used the word ‘bewildered’ in paragraph 7, you wouldn’t want it to repeat in paragraph 10.
  3. Prevents a surprise plot device: You probably don’t want your ending to include something that comes from nowhere or to have accidentally removed a key point for which your reader needed resolution

However, both sides of my analogy share a similar danger: that of removing so much, the piece is reduced to something unusable. While it might be easier to salvage a mangled paragraph than a block of over-sanded wood, in either case, I’m usually inclined to scrap the affected part to start over.

The current evaluation of my chapter-end is what led to this quick blog post. I’m finding myself close to the point of starting over. I have three little mysteries that don’t feel like they’re compelling enough together, and none are strong enough to stand alone.

Time to get back to some literary sandblasting.

sandblasting

For future you and me: it’s the end of Chapter 18. When you’ve eventually read that and this, let me know what you think.

–Mike

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© Michael Wallevand, June 2017

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