What My Leaf Blower Taught Me About Writing

I moved into my current home about three summers ago. When Fall came, I tried to use my leaf blower, but it didn’t work. I plugged it into the electrical outlet in my garage, but when I switched it on, nothing happened. Assuming my leaf blower was broken (but being too cheap, lazy, and weirdly sentimental about the machines I own to throw it in the trash), I put it away and left it my garage for the past three years.

Earlier this year, however, I decided that I’d try to fix my leaf blower on the off chance that the problem was just a loose wire or a switch or something I could repair given my limited skill set as a handyman. My first step, of course, was to plug it in and flip the switch. And this time around, it screamed to life.

That’s when I remembered an important detail: Subsequent to the last time I’d used the leaf blower, I hired an electrician to rewire the garage. But I never put two and two together. I never made the connection between the bad wiring in the garage and the fact that the leaf blower didn’t work. As a result, I spent the next three years raking leaves like some kind of caveman when I could have been blowing leaves like some kind of jerk with a really loud leaf blower.

The point of this parable is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch, but I think it works.

It’s the end of November. If you made it through National Novel Writing Month with a draft, you’re probably painfully aware of how much work it needs. And if you came away from the month with only a portion of a draft, then you might feel like you have a lot further to go. Either way, you probably have a massive collection of pages that you feel, due to your proximity to the project, is somehow “broken.”

Maybe you hate the characters.

Maybe you feel the dialogue is flat.

Maybe the plot doesn’t make any sense.

But a lot of these negative feelings you have toward your novel might have a lot more to do with outside issues than with your novel. Your disdain for the project might have more to do with the fact that you’ve been living so closely with it for the past month than the fact that there’s anything wrong with it. In other words, your manuscript isn’t broken. You’re just too burnt out to appreciate it right now.

If you suspect that this is the case, your best bet is to put the manuscript aside for a while — probably not three years, but long enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. More to the point, don’t give up on the project, and don’t trash it just because you think it isn’t working. Instead, give yourself some time. Let your synapses rewire themselves. Allow yourself to recover from the arduous process of banging out that draft.

A month.

Two months.

Maybe longer.

And when you think you’re ready, turn to page one of the manuscript, flip the proverbial on-switch, and give your work a chance to scream back to life.

Marc Schuster is the author of The Grievers (Permanent Press 2012).

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1 Comment

  1. Finally, a use for a leaf blower that isn’t annoying! (I like the cave man approach to leaf raking, but I digress.) I didn’t do NaNo proper. I did a mini-NaNo, one page a day approach. I “failed” at that too, because I bailed for Thanksgiving. But i did bang out a rough draft of a novel this year, and I do understand the step back approach. There are elements that need fixing,but I needed to rewire my thinking before I could see the problems. So the rewiring parable works, too. Thanks,, Marc.

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