My Skinny

Katherine Longshore Reply Tuesday, March 05, 2013
Amongst the YA Muses, we call it the "Skinny".  That little devil that reads over your shoulder.  The one that whispers not-so-sweet not-so-nothings into your ear.

Your characters are flat.  Not even William Shatner could play someone that one-dimensional.

You call that dialogue?  I call it monotonous.

Yaaawwwwnnnnnn.  When is something going to happen in this book?

All those one-star reviews are right.  I don't know how you ever got published, either.

We call it Skinny because of the title entity of Donna's book.  The "character" who follows Ever around, telling her what everyone else thinks of her.  But because of Donna's book, we know that Skinny doesn't tell the truth.  She doesn't say the things others are thinking.  She says the worst things we think about ourselves.

Not.  Helpful.

Call it Skinny.  Call it your Inner Critic.  And when you are first drafting, tell it to go away.  Get rid of it.  Because a first draft is sacred.  It's supposed to suck.  But it's also when the magic happens.  When the seeds get sown for something wonderful.  And Skinny makes the ground barren and blackens out the sunlight.  She steals all the oxygen so nothing can grow.

But how do you make that tenacious little thing let go?  It's like the creepy little Gremlins from that 80's movie.

A few tricks:

  • Visualize it popping like a bubble.  Or shooting it with an air gun.  Or making it explode in the microwave.  Or trapping it in an old peanut butter jar and hiding it in the back of your pantry.  Anything.  Just make it disappear.

  • Disagree with it.  Firmly.  Not open for debate.

  • Call a friend.  Get his opinion.  Let him tell you how fabulous you are, how your writing is like magic and your characters glow with life.  Then find the balance and get back to the page.

  • Give Skinny a chance to give her opinions, but give her guidelines.  Maybe at the end of the day, after the drafting is done.  Put these notes into your manuscript in red and come back to them in revision.

Because yes, you need to look at your work with a critical eye.  Yes, you need to be able to kill your darlings.  Yes, you need to do everything you can to improve your work.  But this happens in revision.  And your Skinny needs to give you the same treatment a good critiquer will.  Using a sandwich--good, bad, good.  Offering solutions.  Asking questions.  Making you think.  Making it better.  Not making you feel worse.

Make your Skinny work for you, not the other way around.

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