Trite, Predictable, and yet trying to be Clever

“Trite, predictable, and yet trying to be clever.” My husband used much kinder words, of course. His reaction to the first few paragraphs of my book, however, distilled down to “TPC”.

He shared these thoughts two months ago. Until then I’d been writing nearly every morning, before the house awoke. My writing log reveals that, after hearing his feedback, writing ceased for a week. After that, output was fitful and sporadic.    My editor tried to console me by observing, “one man’s feast is another man’s poison.”  So I thought, “my writing is like poison?”  I grew more dejected.  These two months have been an extended trek through manic depression; before the feedback I was on a high high.  After, I crashed to a low low.

When I started writing my book, ALIGN, I set a goal: 500 words per day, 300 words minimum. An audiobook ‘Daily Rituals‘ inspired routine:

  • Wake up 5 am, put coffee on
  • drink lemon water, do 5 minutes yoga
  • sit down with cup of coffee
  • review the previous few days of writing, write

Morning after morning, I slipped into the zone. Fully focused, I tapped away on my laptop. By the time my son would climb into my lap, eyes heavy with sleep, I’d discover I’d written about 1000 words. On other mornings, when it was time to call into a meeting for work, I’d see I’d written at least 500.  Satisfied, I’d stop writing and move on to other responsibilities.  I enjoyed those days more fully than any that I’ve ever lived, for I’d created something that came from my heart and my brain.  I’d gotten my #1 task finished and was getting my story into words.

Writing everyday was a mantra and a priority. Writing everyday felt wonderful.  Of course, I wanted to write well.  Rather than hand-crafting every sentence to the standards of Hemingway, however, I simply got my thoughts down, no matter how they fell out.  I determined to worry about sentence structure and artistic flair later.

My motivation is to share the aligning skills I’ve learned over years directing the Altera Customer Advisory Board. I truly believe these skills are useful beyond planning products. These skills are about connecting with people, working together and prioritizing activities to get to a common goal. They are about recognizing the competition for what it is: a worthy opponent who challenges us to become our better selves. These skills are about being authentic. They are about striving to genuinely understand the customer perspective and then doubling-down to learn more still. They are about getting to a point where we can hear the right combination of customer voices in our heads as we make decisions both large and small. They are about being gentle yet strong, open yet steadfast, curious yet confident.  At least, that’s how I felt before my husband read my opening pages.

Post-TPC, the joy of writing has morphed into tepid torture. No longer able to grant myself the freedom to just go with my thoughts, my desire to write well squashes sentences before they form. My ego has risen, and it doesn’t tolerate TPC writing.

An aside: I’m a 41 year old woman. In my time on this earth so far, I’ve learned to cultivate an inner voice that is gentle and caring. As such, this ego of mine isn’t berating or belittling. It isn’t calling me a lousy writer or saying I’m stupid. But this ego is now ever-present and it is getting in my way.

On one hand, this opinionated ego pushes me to consider what I’m really trying to say. It challenges me to go deeper for meaning rather than write gimmicky prose.   But ultimately it is counterproductive because this ego has summoned fear.

The TV mini-series Serangoon Road takes place in 1960s Singapore. I watched it because my brother and sister-in-law, who live in Singapore, were cast as extras. As much as I wanted to see them on the small screen, I couldn’t bear to watch more than two episodes; the dialog and plot structure were trite and predictable.  I could imagine the screenwriter sitting at his desk trying to come up with something clever at every turn.  The thing is, this HBO/ABC mini series looked good. Some scenes were breathtaking and hit a powerfully nostalgic chord.  But the high quality veneer gave way to a bad story. The window dressing, though visually artistic, couldn’t make up for TPC dialog.

Now when I sit down to write, it hurts to think I’m pouring out pablum on par with Serangoon Road.

“Get over yourself!”  my inner voice gently and repeatedly urges.  So, lately, when work hasn’t gotten in the way, I’ve been back at writing.  During  the day I jot down ideas about character development, plot structure, and how to teach alignment skills.

The trick now is to return to that earlier mindset and accept that I’m writing at Serangoon Road caliber. Maybe my editor is right in saying, “one man’s food is another’s poison”.  After all, someone must like that mini-series.  It ran a full ten episodes and received a score of 7.2 on IMDB.  So I’m not Hemingway. So what?  I’ve something to say and I’m going to say it.  I just hope the end product is at least edible.   Yes, I want my book to be good. But I need to put my ego aside for now. It can sit on the bench until I get into the heavy editing phase. For now I just have to get the story written.

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