Monday, October 11, 2010

Dealing with Pylon Moments

Pylon Moments: When the world seems to darken all around you.
Years ago I remember reading an interview with the members of REM.  They were saying how proud they were of their first EP* -- until they heard an album that had just been released by another Athens, GA group, Pylon.  They were so blown away by the Pylon album that REM wondered what they were doing even trying to make music when groups like Pylon were doing it so much better than they were.

I had one of those Pylon Moments earlier today.

I've been working on my WIP for many moons now and finally have it to a point where I'm fairly happy with it.  Sure, there are a few things that might still need tweaking, but, all-in-all, I'm okay with how it is.  This past week I dove head-first into the shallow pool known as Querying, taking a look at many of my past queries and tried to determine what worked and what didn't and why.

And, of course, I've been reading a lot.

This morning, I decided to start a new book on the way in to werk: Larklight: A Rousing Tale of Dauntless Pluck in the Farthest Reaches of Space. It was MG, science fiction re-imagined from a Victorian perspective and almost breathless in the way the author had created his world and moved his story along at breakneck speed.

I read the first 80 pages on the way to werk, shaking my head in appreciation for the voice, the world, the characters, the settings.  Heck, I even laughed out loud on the bus at one point.

And then I made a fatal mistake.  I compared it to my WIP.

(Insert sound effects of screeching breaks)

All I saw were big, bold letters that spelled out EPIC FAIL.

To be fair to myself and my story, I compared a great, imaginative beginning to the worst of my fears and anxieties about my WIP.  Forgotten were the characters I like so much, the scenes and bits of witty (if I say so myself) dialogue that still make me smile when I read through them.  No, all I saw were the worst of my manuscript's flaws, splayed out before me, sliced bloody with a rusty, jagged knife, with full color commentary voiced by those vicious DJs from KFKD

I had worked a lot of this out in my head on the walk from the bus stop to my office.  I recognized the need to be both realistic as well as kind to myself and my story.  I've had several different people read it who were honest in their opinions and none of them wrote back to me to say anything close to EPIC FAIL.  Still, there were still some lingering, um, doubts.  A quick conversation with my CP confirmed some things and, because she has a wonderfully clear head for such things, she was able to give me some new insights into the positioning of my book in the market.

I think Pylon Moments -- once you recover from them -- can be useful things.  Once all of your insecurities are laid out before you, you can deal with them, one at a time.  They can point out what you think you need to work on and how you can improve both your story and your writing.  They can also help you to be realistic about what you've written and what you might want to change.

For me, I've been worried if my story isn't a bit safe.  (Which, is to say, boring)  Okay, so it's not an action-packed, non-stop, swashbuckling, thrillfest adventure, but not every book needs to be.  I've written the book I wanted to write and I'm intent on being happy with that.  (And not, say, tossing the entire manuscript onto a bonfire and setting the thing alight... which would be difficult since there are so many backup copies on USB sticks which I don't think burn all that well.  Melt, maybe, but only after giving off lots of toxic fumes)

Have you had a Pylon Moment?  How did you work though it?  How do you handle comparing your own writing to writings by other authors?

-- Tom


* Chronic Town, which for those of you who didn't buy it on vinyl when it was first released in '82, was later released as bonus material at the end of the Dead Letter Office CD, for those of you keeping score.

† From Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, one of the BEST books on writing.  Period.


  1. Heh. You can burn all the USB sticks you want. You emailed me that revised version. It's safe on MY computer now. *threatens to query FOR you if you don't snap out of it* ;)

  2. Oh yeah. I think my writing career was delayed by at least 6 months after finishing Harry Potter. Simply because "I could never do that." Later it was the Hunger Games trilogy. But that time I forced myself to breathe and challenge myself, not give up.

  3. Jess: You have a new version of the query (one that undoubtedly looks very familiar) in your inbox.

    Lisa: I think your "breathe and challenge myself" take on it is the wisest course of action. (It certainly beats not writing)

    -- Tom

  4. As painful as these moments are, I think they can serve to improve the writing. I have them all the time. My favorite thing to do after one is to read something I love in my own book, and then try to raise the ante so that the parts of my book which stir up my doubts are just as great.