What a galah!

Oh, don’t you hate it when you get it wrong? Galahs are the pink and grey cockatoos. That is not the same as a sulphur-chested cockatoo like the marauder in the picture. He is not a galah, even though they are both cockatoos. And while a cockatoo is not a galah, it is a parrot. And those green and red ones we think of as parrots, like the king parrot, are not cockatoos or galahs even though all of these birds are parrots. Confused yet? It’s a hierarchical classification thing. I remember learning it in zoology.

The word cockatoo doesn’t just mean our white and yellow feathered friends either. In Australian slang a person who keeps watch whilst their mates undertake clandestine activities like gambling is sometimes referred to as a ‘cockatoo’. Probably because they’re expected to squawk if they see the coppers coming. And completely unrelated to birds or illegal activities, small-hold farmer are often referred to as ‘cocky farmers’ on account of real farmers not taking them seriously. Come to think of it I’m probably a bit of a cocky farmer myself. And lets face it, we can all get a bit cocky sometimes.

A couple of weeks ago, I found one of ‘those’ errors whilst working on my third draft. I’m not talking about spelling errors here. I’ve talking about the kind of error that makes you kick yourself for not picking it up in your very early research.  Because it’s the kind of blindingly obvious thing you should have checked. And it’s the kind of error that once seen, cannot be unseen. It demands a major rewrite of the start of your book. The kind of error that results in a dummy spit and self flagellation for your own stupidity. You consider giving the whole project up. Taking your bat and ball and going home.

We all have them. Those moments when we just want to throw in the towel and give up. After a good run and a few days of wrestling with my inner five year old demon I started pulling up my bootstraps. I couldn’t actually bring myself to return to the work immediately. Sulking does not after all produce good creative output. So I did the only thing I could and worked on something else completely unrelated to try and get my mojo back.

The short story format is wonderful for so many reasons. It can break the back of writers block and bad moods, give you a sense of accomplishment and remind you that you can actually finish things. And they are a great place to pump out all that animosity about an error. I went for a noirish mystery of the type where no one is spared. I killed off all the characters except for the opponent by poisoning them. It did a ripper job of getting the poison out of my own system too. Then I settled down and got back to the main game.

I re-plotted the first 9 chapters. It’s not entirely different. I just needed to find a different way into the story to deal with the error. And what do you know, the rewrite is actually going to be a better story than the original I think! Now there’s a good lesson for me: Never get too attached to what you’re writing, you may have to do a slash and burn – it won’t be the end of the world. The work I had already done won’t be wasted. I’ll cut and sort and paste and recycle the good parts that still work. The parts that I can’t use weren’t wasted either as they helped me develop the characters and the story which contributed to the improved rewrite. What a Galah hey?

What strategies do you use to deal with, and get over the discovery of major flaws in your work?


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