09 May, 2013

Spank Me

With all this talk of inspiration and toughening up, there's a point that needs to be made.

This is something we all learn from bitter experience.

Let me preface this by saying I got my critique form my agent recently. She said exactly what I'd expected. Lots of constructive comments, a little helpful dialogue over email, and she didn't think the book was perfect. Neither did I. That's why I wanted the comments. I put myself, and all my best efforts, naked before her so she could...

And... SMACK!

"Ow! Damn, lady! If I were into that stuff maybe but--"

"You'll take it. It's good for you. I know you want it."

And... SMACK!

"Give me back my clothes!"

In a (not erotic) sense, the experience reminded me of my martial arts training.

Fear is something very few martial arts teachers acknowledge. If you're well trained, they say, you won't feel it. You'll just fight.


Military teachers know that even hard-core special forces guys are quaking in their boots when the action hits. They've just become comfortable with it. That's why good fighters scream like banshees when they're in combat, instead of staying quiet like a Shaolin monk stereotype. You don't enter combat expecting to win. You enter expecting to fight. The most dangerous fighters enter expecting to die.

It's vaguely related, but skip it if you aren't interested in martial arts.

This isn't something a person can teach you. It's something I discovered from experience. Once I'd been in 700 or so fights (controlled so we didn't kill each other, but with no rules aside from "let the guy tap out", "stop kicking him once he goes limp" and "don't leave him blind or impotent") I stopped thinking about victory or defeat. I just fought, feeling the combat around me. Only then could I fight well, and martial arts stopped being theory and became practise. In terms of technique, Tukkong Musool is quite simple. That simplicity allows it to be experienced effectively by the student, and the experience, the method of learning via doing, is what separates it from other martial arts. There is no theorisation, only practise. That's why it's used by Special Forces squads all over the world.  Even Brazilian Jiu Jitsu teachers feel the need to inundate their students with the idea that all fights go to the floor. Most do (which is why we do BJJ in Tukkong, because it really is the best ground-fighting art) but when fighting multiple opponents, taking someone to the floor is a death sentence. BJJ teachers neglect to explain this incredibly obvious fact. It has to be deliberate, because no one is that stupid. In truth, I've never seen another school that gets you training in practise against multiple opponents, and I've looked extensively. I'll reiterate the reason I say all this: Special Forces units and all of the elite warriors of this world were trained by getting their asses kicked, and there is no substitute.

End of Rant

I can tell you not to fear rejection, to revel in advice and look forward to your agent/editor tearing your manuscript to shreds to help forge it anew, but I'd be like a martial arts teacher telling you not to feel fear. That's smeg. You will be afraid of rejection, and even acceptance that includes extensive criticism will hurt.

When Leslie gave me my feedback on my novel, it tore me up. I was out with friends, having a great time. I checked my email on my phone and had to be alone. I couldn't even tell anyone why because I was so ashamed.

The next morning (in which I write this post) I looked at her email and realised she didn't say she hated the book, she just said the plot digresses a bit and it needs some work. I ALREADY KNEW THAT!!!! I sent it to her expecting her to say those exact smegging things! She even offered the advice I'd hoped for!

If we follow the spanking metaphor, I'd just gone into her office and done this:

I got what I'd asked for. Why did it upset me? Because it hurt. Because emotions are idiots. Much as we love them, they don't submit to logic. (I'm a huge advocate of the importance of emotional intelligence, just to be clear. I mean this stuff tongue in cheek.)

I even new it would hurt. I was emotionally prepared. Still, there was a part of me that wanted her to say the last story she'd fallen so in love with was A Clockwork Orange, and she thought it grand that another talent like Anthony Burgess had joined her agency and she wanted to be my biggest fan for all eternity and she'd send me flowers and love letters and panties and, while I would have been a bit weirded out, I certainly would have taken it as a compliment.

Now I'm hard at work fixing the glitches that I knew were there, inspired by Leslie's words and thankful for her guidance. I repeat: emotions are idiots.

I'm not sure what to offer here by way of advice. I don't think I've truly learned anything, which is to say, I'm not sure this experience will change me much. Maybe I'll become more confident as my career progresses, but I have no way of knowing yet. All I can offer is this: getting spanked hurts, even when you see it coming, and even when it's for your own good. Don't send your manuscripts off expecting them to be loved. Send them off expecting them to be read.


Anonymous said...

Oh golly! So much spanking!

But 'Send off expecting to be read' - completely bang on.

Great post

Jenn Lawson said...

Couldn't agree more with your post.
I'm not a published writer, but I do look forward to the rejections--it'll mean I was READ.

"Only bad writers think that their work is really great." ~Anne Enright

Jenn Lawson said...

Couldn't agree more with your post.
I'm not a published writer, but I do look forward to the rejections--it'll mean I was READ.

"Only bad writers think that their work is really great." ~Anne Enright

Wm. Luke Everest said...

Love that quote, Jenn. I'll carry that one with me into my next shredding ;)