Saturday, January 15, 2011

You Can't Polish a Turd

How do you know when something you've written just can't be saved? You're writing along, spending months of your life creating that first draft, thinking all along you're writing the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. You finish, you show it off to the world--which includes like three people at first--and it bombs. You're expectations are shattered, and your book becomes the tale of two shitties: crappy plot and stupid gimmicks.

Suggestions come at you like "lose the ghost story," though that's the story's backbone, and "rewrite it in a different time frame of the character's life," though that defeats the purpose of writing it in the first place. So how do you know when it's time to put it in the scrap heap and forget about it? The passion for the story is gone. The character has been exercised. You have nothing left. So do you move on to another project, or do you pig-headedly plow forward trying to polish your turd?

Now, I've never tried to polish an actual turd. Have you? If you have, I'm assuming what happens is you just keep wiping away layers of human fecal matter to reveal more. So you keep polishing, buffing that sucker with all you've got (wearing rubber gloves and a surgeon's mask I hope) until there's nothing left but a brown (or green) smear on your latex covered hands. Then what? Do you have to start over again anyway, pushing out another turd?

But there might be that one time, when you're polishing away at yesterday's dinner in waste form, that you come across that stray piece of undigested corn--the kernel of truth. The kernel that you take and harvest and build a stalk of pure, unsoiled, non-turd writing that becomes the next Great Expectations or A Tale of Two Cities. The next GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL. Okay, so Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities were British novels, and you're no Dickens, but you've got something you can work from; whereas, before you only had a turd.

So how do you know? Is there a way to know that there's a kernel deep within your turd of a novel that you can cultivate before you spend time, energy, and gag-reflexes on trying to beautify a giant piece of shit, ending up with nothing but a palm full of crappy residue?

I think you should just be able to tell. There should be a gut feeling. I'm worried I'm getting that gut feeling. That feeling that I just spent six months breaking off a turd that cannot be polished. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with that when it's your thesis, and you only have three months to make it golden. Is there a fairy godmother out there somewhere that can turn literary turds to treasure, taking this book from poop to published? Doubtful.

I suppose it's time to stop whining and being the cliche tortured soul and actually get to work figuring this out, to start polishing my turd. Anyone want to join me?


  1. We're all in the same polishing boat, dude. I got comments back on the screenplay that amount to basically the same thing. Although thankfully advisor number two said, "I like the story in general, but..." and then a long list of things she thinks I should change.

    And, to use your own analogies, there's definitely a kernel in your pile. You just need to get all zen and decide how best to get at it. You're a good writer, so you can do it. But since it's your thesis, don't spend too much time on this pouting need to buckle down and start polishing.

  2. Thanks. This is the first time where I've truly felt lost. I really can imagine it going in so many different directions. I just can't decide which way to go, and I don't know how to make the decision.