When I groom dogs sometimes I simply cannot finish a face. I look at the dog and know something is off but I can’t see why. It doesn’t help that this piece of art moves around and doesn’t sit still, no matter what, it really is an art form. Sculpting dog fur on a live canvas is not easy. Neither are words. Sometimes that sentence or plot point feels off, yet you are incapable of knowing exactly why. In both vocations, you have options to deal with this dilemma.
First of all, take a break. When I get frustrated with a haircut at work I will sometimes put the dog down on the floor and let it run around a bit. I let the hair fall into place. I let the dog take a break as well as my eyes. This is the same with words. Every writer will tell you to walk away and leave your work before revision, but sometimes even in a draft, I need to skip over something and return later. If you push yourself you’ll end up with a mess. Writing has “delete” and erasers, but in the dog grooming world, you can scissor away until there’s nothing left to fix and the dog looks terrible. I’ve had it happen to me a few times in my training years. You can’t put that hair back once it’s off so I learned how to take breaks with my work. I’ll leave that shapeless tail and work on the legs, or whatever it takes to stop obsessing over something. Take a break and when you return maybe look at it from a different angle.
Sometimes just seeing the dog at a different angle helps. They are three dimensional after all. As a writer, I need my characters and worlds to feel well rounded. So again, I view sentences and words from different angles. How do I do that? I read it from different perspectives. I write for children so I will read my story as a child, then as an adult reading it aloud, then as a random adult who may be interested in children’s stories. I pretend. It’s what storytellers do after all. And I don’t pretend I’m reading the greatest book ever and I’m reading it to “my fans”, I pretend the story is new to me and I’m a different person. A different point of view. If you don’t write for children, would someone who doesn’t normally read your genre enjoy your story anyway? Just a thought. But the best way to test this is a critique group.
In dog grooming, when I am at an absolute block and know I’m not going to figure out why Fido isn’t looking right, I’ll simply ask another groomer. Someone who hasn’t been staring at this dog. Someone who understands this frustration, someone who can see what I cannot. It’s usually something simple. Usually, that left side of the chin or that one ear is crooked, something you’d think a groomer of 27 years would have seen. But we miss things. And so do writers. I am finally in a critique group for my picture books and at first, I felt odd sending work to them knowing something was off here or there. It is decent completed work mind you. I’m not sending over typos and unfinished work asking for others to help. I’m asking to please look at this because I just can’t anymore. Not only do I get to have fantastic people point out my weak spots, but I get to read their work and see that they have their own struggles and doubts. It helps me feel connected.
My whole life it’s been difficult to explain to outsiders how challenging, yet wonderful at the same time dog grooming is. It’s not all fluff and cuddles. Now as I put my stories from journals into word docs and prep them for the world I find myself in the same position. Writing is hard, yet amazing at the same time. I need to get the stories out of my head. I love that part. Yes, that’s easy. Making them readable, enjoyable, book worthy and sellable, is a different job. Once again I find it difficult to explain why writing is so important to me and even though I love it and need it, it can also make me feel like crap.
If you have yet to find a critique group for whatever fear you may have, I urge you to keep searching. They keep you on deadlines. In dog grooming, I don’t have all day with each dog. People want their dogs back and I have a lot of dogs a day to groom. Limited time keeps you focused but without that in writing, we can really slack and not prioritize. Speaking of prioritizing, having the knowledge that other’s are expecting my work by a certain date takes away some of the guilt I feel when I write. Sometimes I feel as if I’m wasting time, but if other people are depending on me then my work becomes more relevant. Also, it helps to know that other’s are out there writing and working on their stories. There really is a great writing community out there and although it can be overwhelming, a small critique group is priceless. If nothing else, you’ll have people who understand your love/hate relationship with your writing and that is a good thing.
Happy writing all!