Everything Is Broken

I hate it when things aren’t working right.

Last week was a doozy.

First, it was the microphone I use to record podcasts. (Yes, RMFW, the microphone you purchased to help start the podcasts– all $50 worth. It worked for two years & 77 podcasts and then pfffft.)

It looked the same as always. Nothing rattled. But, busted. Gone.

I spent 3.5 hours online with a tech service trying to see what was wrong with my computer.

Turns out, it was the microphone.

Then, our refrigerator started making an annoying rattle.

$850 later, we had a new compressor.  (I can’t show it to you; it’s tucked inside the refrigerator now, doing its job).

These guys came to my house twice in one week!

The next day, one of the flaps in the dryer’s tumbler thing came loose. Whump-whump-whump.

The credit card took another $208 hit.

No joke.

(Bob Dylan was ringing in my ear …. Broken lines, broken strings, Broken threads, broken springs…)

What else breaks?

Sometimes, it’s our words.

A word. A sentence. A paragraph.

George Saunders (Lincoln in The Bardo; many, many killer short stories) has a terrific piece in The Guardian about writing. It's called 'What writers really do when they write.'

He talks about evaluating the words he has written “without hope and without despair.”

George Saunders says he imagines a meter mounted on his forehead as he reads his own stuff, with “P” on one side for positive and “N” on the other for negative.

“Accept the result without whining,” he suggests.

Then edit, he writes, “so as to move the needle into the ‘P’ zone.”

There’s a lot of good stuff in this piece.

It’s long but entirely worth absorbing.

I won’t come right out and say a sentence is “broken” or a paragraph is “broken."

I mean, you’ve got something work with--that's a huge accomplishment.

Those words on the page. You can’t edit thin air.

But there might be a way to make those words work better.

To make them, well, work.

There’s P, there’s N.

Fix them!

No whining.

Final thought from George Saunders: “Any work of art quickly reveals itself to be a linked system of problems.”

Mark Stevens

Mark Stevens is 2016 RMFW Writer of the Year. He writes the Allison Coil Mystery Series–Antler Dust (2007), Buried by the Roan (2011), Trapline (2014) and Lake of Fire (2015). Buried by the Roan, Trapline and Lake of Fire were all finalists for the Colorado Book Award; Trapline won. Trapline also won the 2015 award in genre fiction from the Colorado Authors League. Kirkus Reviews called Lake of Fire “irresistible.” More about Mark on his website.

6 thoughts on “Everything Is Broken

  1. Sounds like you had a three-strikes-you’re-out kind of day but managed to incorporate it into good advice. Thanks!

    • Actually, a light fixture also broke but I thought that was WAY too much drama. Three was a better number … you are correct! Thanks for the comment, Merissa.

  2. My sympathies, Mark. You summoned your sense of humor, though!

    Funny you should mention despair. I’m in revisions and wrote a new, needed scene. Don’t often feel it, but once it was written, despair set in. It contained all the needed scene structure, but it didn’t register on the “P” side. Twenty-four hours later, I realized it was right, but I placed it too soon. I moved it up a couple of chapters, and voila! It pinged over to the “P.” Thanks for the visualization technique. Maybe I can sidestep the “despair” stage next time!

  3. Ha, thanks Janet — I think we know whether something is working or not, don’t we? The thing is to be brutal and honest and not whine about it ! Just —– fix it.

  4. Last week must have been my full moon week ! I spent ALL DAY Friday with a keyboard that suddenly decided to not interact with my computer. Online with Dell Techs for a total of 8 hours. It was a great opportunity to manage patience! Thank you Lisa. Yes, a beautiful mic. I have a new one!

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