How To Wreck Writing

In the ad biz, inane comments and edits were expected. My best was when a top-level client asked me to change “Be Like Mike” to “Be Like Michael”.

Taken aback when I refused, he asked me why. And I told him, “Because ‘Be Like Michael’ doesn’t rhyme.

His response was a huffy and dismissive, “You creative people are all the same.”

And he was right, we are all the same, all fiercely proud of our words and pictures because we spent hours and many brain cells coming up with them, tossing many to the side because they didn’t feel right. So what we’ve ended up with is a product, picture, sonata, novel or piece of writing that’s as close to perfect as we can come. And when some non-artist takes a poke at our work, maybe we’ll listen politely but then shake our heads. As e.e. cummings wrote, “There is some s*** I will not eat.”

When I became a writer, I expected much less carping and whatever incoming criticism I expected to be contributive–thoughtful comments that would help move the work forward. And for the most part, my experience has been on the positive side.

For instance, my agent had his team of fellow agents review my book, Writing With The Master– the story of writing a novel under the guidance of John Grisham. The book alternates portions of my novel with John’s criticisms and they said that reading the sections of my novel felt like having to do homework until they got to John’s reactions which they loved. So the suggestion was to dramatically cut back the novel excerpts. After some consternation and missteps, I figured out how to do it without severely shrinking the book and changing its character. The result? A much improved draft which was later picked up by a publisher and was published in February 2014. A good case of all’s well that ends well.

So fast forward and my publicist, Sharon, is having me write articles she can pitch to blogs that writers frequent. She suggested I do a piece entitled “Tripping Over Yourself Until You Get It Right.” From listening to me talk about my experience with John, she thought all the wrong turns I took and John’s redirections would make an interesting article for a blog she had in mind. I wrote it, she came back with some suggestions making it more compatible with the style and substance of the blog, I agreed and off it went.

I was surprised when she sent it back saying the blog’s director had issues. When a writer hears someone has issues is like a doctor saying, “I see some things I don’t like.” It’s bad news time. The sound of a wrench being tossed into the works.

So here’s what the exalted blog director did. Changed the title:

Tripping Over Yourself Until You Get It Right becomes John Grisham, My Neighbor and Mentor.

It sounds sucky and syrupy, like My Friend Flicka when the actual experience was agonizingly painful. Wrong in tone and boringly mundane.

Next, the blogmaster makes a trivial but totally unnecessary alteration:

I pitched him three stories and he bought the third was changed to I pitched him three stories and he liked the third. A pitch is a sales job, you’re trying to sell something to somebody. And if they go for it, they’ve bought it. Liking it goes with the territory, buying it is the whole enchilada. If topblog was editing this piece, he’d probably change enchilada to burrito, because he has numbers to prove they are more popular.

But it gets better. For the wrapup, to encourage writers to keep on despite the disappointments and pitfalls, I write one of my all-time best set of sentences:

The only thing a writer can be sure of is that if you sit down at the keyboard every day for a good amount of time, something will happen. Good or bad you can’t control but if you keep pushing the words out and not sweating the outcome, the inevitable will occur.

Pretty damn good, right? You can write good stuff or bad stuff, you never quite know which until you finish and put it in the drawer for a week or two and forge on fearlessly and sooner or later, what was bound to happen will occur– the inevitable will occur. Beautiful, huh? It’s part of the reason we all write, because it’s such a dual experience, exciting and exhausting, delightful and debilitating. But yet we keep on because we know there’s gold at the end of the rainbow.

So what does blogmaster do? You won’t believe it.

Cuts out good or bad you can’t control but if you keep pushing the words out and not sweating the outcome, the inevitable will occur. Cuts out great stuff about the process, just pfft, takes a meat cleaver to my words like they are gristle on a porkchop.

Then the ultimate ignominy, Topblog goes after my prize sentence. I used to say that brand managers would take an idea, find the rough edges and sand them down smooth so the idea was perfectly round and absolutely ordinary. He takes the practice to a whole new level:

The only thing a writer can be sure of is that if you sit down at the keyboard every day for a good amount of time, something will happen. But that something might take a different form and skill set, than you thought when you started out.

Changes the last sentence so it becomes a big wet fart of an ending. Sabotages the tone, the essence making it something a brand manager would write. Skill set? What the F does business school lingo have to do with creative writing?

And what’s more, I’m giving blogmaster this writing free, doesn’t cost him a penny so what’s he going and crapping all over my words for?

I think you get the point. Unless you have something constructive to say, leave a writer’s words well enough alone.