Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Diagnosing the Problem

Many of us may not realize it, but one of the things that we know better than anything else is our bodies.  From birth, we spent every moment of our lives in our bodies.  Because of that, we should know when something’s not right.  There’s always the little clues, the telltale signs that we sometimes ignore.

It could be that we’re just feeling more run down than usual.  It could be that a certain muscle is sore or that we can’t move as easily as we used to.  Or maybe it’s a strange odor coming out of our urine.

But more times than not, we ignore the symptoms, excusing them for something else.  I’m tired?  Well, maybe I just didn’t get enough sleep.  I’m sore?  Well, it’s probably because I made a funny movement, or because I’m not used to exercising.  Urine?  Probably ate something different.

And many times, it’s probably true.  But what happens in those rare moments when it’s something more serious?  When do we realize it?

As a nurse, I’ve seen patients who have ignored something until it becomes much more serious than it could have been.  I’ve also seen patients who worry about every symptom when they can be easily explained.  How do we tell the difference between a heart murmur and just lack of exercise?  What if we mistake forgetfulness as old age when it may be dementia? 

Doctors and nurses have different tests that they use to zero in on specific problems.  Yes, there are CT’s, MRI’s, but those aren’t used until the basics are used.  Basics like blood pressure, pulse, temperature.  Sometimes the smallest things can give the greatest clues.

I think that sometimes as writers, we do the same thing.  We know our stories better than anyone else.  We’ve been with it since its inception, and there might be those moments when we think that something might be wrong.  A word, a sentence, a scene, but we brush it off.  How could anything possibly be wrong?
But if we continue without stopping to fix the problem, it may grow.  It may develop into something more serious.  Suddenly, instead of a simple infection that needs antibiotics, suddenly we’re in the hospital with sepsis, and all of our organs are going into failure. 

How do we know when it’s something serious? 

1. Always follow your instincts.  If you feel that something’s wrong, it probably is.   

2. Get a second opinion.  When we feel sick, we go to a doctor.  We get someone to look at it, and we go to someone who has medical knowledge.  Writers don’t have doctors, but they do have critiquers and betas.  They are our doctors.  And if you have a good beta, they can also be the nurse, helping through all the difficult healing process after the diagnosis has been made.

3. Do your research.  If your doctor tells you that you have several diseases and puts you on a diet of peanut butter and celery only (I’ve had that happen), do your research.  Go to another doctor.  One critiquer may hate one section, want you to change your style or even a major plot point.  Before tearing your work apart, ask someone else.  I think having at least three critiquers is best.  If the majority agrees, then it needs to be looked at and fixed.

4. Be compliant with the prescription.  This can be one of the most difficult.  It’s like when the doctor says to take an antibiotic for 10 days and you feel better after 5.  Do you keep taking it?  (As a nurse, I have to say YES!  Take it for the whole amount of time!)  For writing, if your betas tell you to watch passive voice in a section, does it mean that it’s the only section that needs it?  It’s probably what’s needed in the entire work. Your doctor tells you to cut down your sugar intake?  Is it easy?  No.  Will it benefit you in the long run?  Of course.  Likewise, if your betas tell you to cut down the back story and info dumps, it's probably not just to make you suffer.  They want your story to be better in the long run.

5. Don’t give up.  Even if the doctor gives you a poor prognosis, that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.  It may mean that you have to fight harder, but it doesn’t mean that you should give up.

Any personal experiences getting your writing diagnosed?