Monday, August 15, 2011

Mr. Fixit Learns The System

Here at my house, things tend to break down. A lot.

This is due primarily to the fact that much of our stuff is old and currently without hope of replacement. Yes, there is a financial component to this situation, but the truth is even if we could afford to replace this stuff, there are other factors at work.

Which is why there has been a new dishwasher sitting unused in our garage for two years while the old one rattles and leaks its way through every load. But that's another story for another blog post.

So with equipment in constant need of repair and limited funds to hire out the work, I have been required to call up my handyman genes and figure out the secret workings of washers and dryers and aerobic septic systems. But this hasn't always been easy.

Back in my grandparents' era, equipment was built with access and repair in mind. The workings were generally laid out in a way that invited understanding and tinkering.

These days, equipment is presented to the user as a "black box," where the inner mechanics are hidden behind a sleek exterior, often without screws, bolts, or any other obvious points of access. Things are just supposed to work, and when they don't you throw them away and buy a new one.

Fortunately, these days also present us with a treasure trove of information, and if one is willing to do a little research and put in some effort, the hidden clasps and secret access points can be discovered, and even someone like me can replace a washing machine snubber or repair a compressor motor. The information is all there--we simply need to access it.

One thing I have learned is that no matter how complicated or intricate a machine or device is, there is a system to the way it works. It's rare that I get step-by-step instructions for the exact project I'm working on, so I have to use my knowledge of the system to create my own repair plan. Understanding that system demystifies the process, and allows me the confidence to move forward with the repair. Usually all it takes is a few hours, some band-aids, and two bars of soap (one for washing off the grease, and the other for washing out the mouth).

The same has been true with writing and publishing. There is a system to this process, and the secret to success is in the understanding of it. And yet, within the system there are so many variables that it's impossible to follow a preset course. The best any one of us can hope to do is learn enough about the system--the mechanics of story structure; the quality of voice; the tricks of dialog and characterization; the quirks and idiosyncrasies of publishing and selling--and then push forward with a plan of attack custom made for our own unique projects.

Fortunately, the information is all readily available on blogs, websites, twitter chats, and at writing conferences. We live in a day and age where the publishing world is much more complicated than ever before. And yet the information we have at our disposal is the best it has ever been.

Study, learn, and understand the system. Then bring out your band-aids and your soap, and get to work.


Steve Westover said...

Excellent Analagy Don!
It's intimidating, so much so that people often choose not to try. But like you say, gaining some basic understanding can go a long ways in increasing skill and confidence.