Friday, July 23, 2010

Lessons from a testosterone-riddled mailman

Yesterday I happened to look out the front window just as our mailman stopped. He put a few envelopes in our standard-size mailbox, and then reached back into his truck for a brown cardboard box.

Yay! A package! I love packages.

I figured he'd bring it to the door, as he usually does with packages, but no. He decided it would fit into the mailbox.

He was wrong.

Not that he would admit it once he got started. Probably because he was so close to right he couldn't stand to back away from his course of action. So he kept on pushing. Rearranged himself and got both arms into the act. Strained and shoved. I was too far away to see if sweat popped out on his brow, but I'm betting it did.

Yes, I could have walked out at this point and relieved him of his effort--it's not like I was lounging around the house naked (then)--but I was sucked into the drama of his struggle. Would he give up? Would he succeed? Would my mailbox survive the assault?

And he could have walked that package to my door (and himself back to his truck) three times during this episode. At a leisurely pace even. I was torn between admiring his stick-to-it-iveness and questioning his intelligence.

That's when it occurred to me I'd been in the same place before with my own chosen field of work. I've tackled scenes in my writing just like that damn package. Looking at them, I've thought they should slip right into the "mailbox"--my WIP--but somehow they didn't ... quite ... fit.

And yet I struggled with them, squishing and warping and shoving them until I forced a fit, even though it would've been less work for me to just give up already, and write a new scene.

Yeah, you could say I'm a wee bit stubborn.

So, did the mailman succeed? Yup. He got the the package in, slammed the mailbox shut, and drove off with a look of grim satisfaction on his face. I could almost see the testosterone coursing through his veins.

BUT. It took me five effing minutes to get that effing package out--I nearly pulled the mailbox off its wooden post doing it. And I broke a nail. Huh. Screw his victory.

The package was crumpled at the corners, but otherwise okay. It performed its function--that of transferring its contents* from the manufacturer to us--adequately.

But you know what I decided? I don't want my ill-fitting scenes to function adequately. I want them to fit seamlessly within my book, so the reader doesn't have to work to ignore the crumpled corners to get to the goodies inside.

I'm not saying scenes should never be hard work--plenty of them are. But if you can't make them fit without leaving them so scarred the reader notices, then maybe your efforts could be spent more wisely. There's a difference between applying elbow grease towards polishing, and stubbornly whacking away at something just to win.

*What was in the package? Cigars for TG. All that for cigars. Not that I don't think he deserves his occasional indulgences, but I'm the one who broke the nail. It should have been my books from Amazon.


Tiffany Schmidt said...

Brilliant analogy, Linda! I think I would've hid behind the curtains and giggled, too.

Susan Adrian said...

Love it, Linder! I'm with T and you. I would've totally watched him struggle it out. Unless I thought he might be damaging my books, of course...


Love this! Very timely for me right now as I perform some final tweaks on the first two books of my contract and think, "is it really worth it to try and shove THAT into that one scene?"

I agree you should have gotten something good in that package for your efforts. Maybe he'll share his cigars again?


Candyland said...

All that and it wasn't even something amazing for you?! Boo..

Unknown said...

I agree! After all that hard (snicker) work, you should have gotten some satisfaction (double snicker) out of the whole ordeal. :)

Kelly Breakey said...

I just couldn't get past the part where you said you love packages. See you really are rubbing off on me. Not in a girl-on-girl way but in a I-am-a-bad-influencer way.

Thank Goodness Cynthia is not around to see it.


Elizabeth Ryann said...

Agreed! Totally should have been your books. Of course, books probably would have been polite enough to just fit neatly into the mailbox.

Dianne K. Salerni said...

Sigh. Blogger ate my comment. Let me see if I can recreate it.

It's true that we often try to push and shove our first idea into the story, even though an outside observer can see that there is a much simpler way to do it. Sometimes, it is hard for us to step back and *be* that outside observer.

When we force our ideas in, the result for the reader is the same for you and the package. Ideas may be adequately conveyed, but everyone can see those unattractively crumpled corners.

abby mumford said...

"But if you can't make them fit without leaving them so scarred the reader notices, then maybe your efforts could be spent more wisely."


i'm hoping that if all of my scenes are scarred and torn, it'll appear seamless to my readers.

Linda G. said...

Tiffany -- Thanks! I admit I was laughing. How could I not?

Suze -- Truthfully, I was more worried about my mailbox, but just too fascinated to interrupt the flow of action.

Tawna -- If there's one thing TG is always up for, it's sharing his cigar with me. ;)

Candyland -- I KNOW! Sometimes life just isn't fair. :(

Karla -- Tee-hee. *snickers along with you*

Kelly -- Snort! See, the "I love packages" was totally accidental. OMG, I'm subliminally dirty!

Elizabeth -- I'll have to remember that in the future: when you just can't stuff the cigar in the mailbox, try spending time with a good book instead.

Dianne -- Exactly! I think this is where a little distance comes in handy. When I finish a scene (especially a tough one) I like to give it a little time to marinate before I reread it. Helps it to settle into the context of the whole book. I can see it more clearly not only for itself, but also judge how well it plays with the other scenes.

Abby -- Even if they get all roughed up when you're battling through the writing process, a little editorial plastic surgery can sometimes work wonders. ;)

stagemanbob said...

Did he (the postman) ring twice? In any case, I don't care for the way he handled my cigar (purchase).

Linda G. said...

That's right, sweetie-pie! Nobody gets to mishandle your cigar package except me. ;)

Sierra Godfrey said...

I am frustrated that the mailman chose to potentially damage your package rather than put it on your step. How did he know you hadn't ordered one of the last of a very limited edition Thomas Kincade Christmas tree ornament light series?

Linda G. said...

Sierra -- I know! Oh, wait...I guess he conceivably could have noticed the cigar company return addy on the shipping label. But still. Cigars are fragile, too. ;)

Deborah Small said...

Brilliant, Linda. And timely, as it reassures me the time I spent the last week revamping the first three chapters of my novel (based on editor suggestions) was not wasted. I literally rewrote the first two chapters, tossing out stuff that had been there for numerous previous revisions because I did not want to 'see' that it did not fit. And you know what? I like the new stuff better. There's more life between, and around the characters, and it does--as the editor indicated I needed to do--give my female protag more 'agency'. *s*

Did you get your Amazon parcel yet? *g*


Jessica Lemmon said...

Oh my golly, I stumbled in here to snoop around and wound up laughing my butt off! Thanks for the LOL - I needed that!

Linda G. said...

Deb -- Glad the post came at a good time for you. I know I sometimes need a little nudge from an outside source to help me see things more clearly in my writing, too. :) And, yeah, got my books. They fit in the mailbox much better than the cigars.

Jessica -- Hi there, fellow snoop! Glad I could give you a laugh. Come back sometime, and I'll try to do it again.:)