This weekend, I'm going to be going to WonderCon in Anaheim, where I'll be signing books and participating in a discussion on 'Reading and Writing with Feelings.'
Along with being on the panel with the other amazing writers, I know that I'm going to have a lot of feelings just meeting people and sharing. It's my first convention on land (see here for the wonderful JoCo Cruise) that I have attended in support of my book, Light From Uncommon Stars. I'm excited and thrilled.
In preparing for this discussion, I also thought about something that I may not cover so heavily on the panel—how feelings play into editing, drafting, proofreading, and letting go of my work.
What happens to my feelings as I am (even gently) criticized by my editor and sensitivity readers and reviewers and so on.
“Trust your feelings” is arguably the most valuable advice you can give to any writer. Every writer comes to a place where the stories and poems they want to write don't quite match the work that they've always admired. At that point, we need the imagination, freedom, and inspiration to commit our own words to paper.
However, imagination, freedom, and inspiration can only take a writer so far. That first draft, that wild one night stand you had with your muse—as magical and unforgettable as it was—might not so seem so perfect in the morning. It fact, it almost certainly won’t be.
Yes, it was love at first sight. But to grow into a long-term relationship?
Manuscripts need to be proofread, edited, sensitivity-read, and even reworked in ways that seem invasive and even unpleasant.
And what happens to your feelings then?
I was thinking about this when I was playing with Peppermint yesterday. Peppermint is my pet ball python. Not only is she my first pet snake--she's the first pet I’ve owned that is not a fish.
And I love fish, but there's something different about holding your pet.
Peppermint and I just sort of hang out. We watch Bob Ross videos, sometimes she just hangs around as I write. I really love her.
However, even though ball pythons are some of the mellowest snakes that you can imagine, and Peppermint is just amazing, I've had to train her a little bit.
There are two things to remember with a snake. First, you don't want your snake to think that your hand is food. I confused Peppermint when I first fed her, and it was the only time she ever bit me. It bled a little bit (snakes have anticoagulants in their saliva) but it didn't hurt at all, and she was as shocked as I was. I learned quickly that snakes exist in different modes. Sometimes they are mellow and crawl up your shirt and watch a video and hang out, but sometimes they are ruthless and just want their rat (there is also a breeding mode, but Peppermint is still far too young to even think about that.)
Second, you need to be willing to make your snake uncomfortable. This sounds counterintuitive, and of course I don't want to freak Peppermint out—I don't want to disturb or hurt her in any way. I am honored that she is my pet, and I want her to live the best life she can.
However, since I want her to live her best life, and we are in a long-term relationship, sometimes things will get uncomfortable. For example, snakes shed their skin, and occasionally part of their old sheds cling to their eyes. These “eye caps” can become irritants and even sources of infection, so they need to be removed.
However, snakes dislike being touched on their head. When first handling Peppermint, whenever I got around to her head, she flinched, so I stopped immediately. However, I was told by more experienced keepers that in those moments, I should continue what I am doing, to get her used to head contact and show that I'm not a threat. That way, in case she gets eye caps, or gets sick and needs to be given medicine orally, it can be done without causing panic.
And that will result in a much happier life.
I think I cultivate the writer in me in much the same way as I do with Peppermint. Here is a beautiful thing that I am honored to have with me. Like Peppermint my inner writer is wild, but basically mellow, and we usually get along fine.
And I want to write freely, magically, even passionately, in the best way that I can. However, there are also times when I need to have my manuscript evaluated and examined. And yes, my instinct is to flinch and pull away, but I have to endure it, because I know that a little bit of discomfort now will save all sorts of heartache in the future.
And that will result in much a better book.
Also, it's been helpful to mentally separate my tasks in much the same way that Peppermint separates hanging out and devouring a rat. When I am writing freely, I should not be worried about editing--just like Bob Ross says, no mistakes, just happy accidents.
But when I'm in editing mode?
Where can I make the story better? What needs to be corrected? What needs to be cut? It’s time to be ruthless and get the job done.
I don't think that any of these realizations are surprising, and this holds true beyond writing. In my judo, in my piano playing—in anything I’m trying to become—I see these times of freedom, of exuberant play and improvisation, interspersed with periods of enduring the unpleasant—the boring parts, the painful parts where I feel vulnerable and threatened.
But somehow, seeing these behaviors in Peppermint, a creature that is literally a reptile, seeing these modes and motivations free from mammalian pretense and primate bullshit—so unapologetically lived in—is a wonderful gift that I shall gratefully take to heart.
In any case, WonderCon on Saturday! If you see me, please say hi—unless you’re cosplaying as a rat, that is.
(In Chapter Two, we laugh and cry as Nancy the Dreadnaught and the SOVishish Captain Eyrus meet the imperial Emprex Dasani.)