Sunday, October 5, 2008

Ms. Reality Check's Proof Statement

Well, we did it again. We started writing without a Proof Statement. Know what that is? Yea, we didn’t either. We wrote our rambling, plot-thin, 94,000-word first draft of The Pecking Order without having heard of a Proof Statement. (Well, that’s not entirely true. I think I may have heard of a Proof Statement in high school geometry, maybe. Then again, I’m not sure. I became a lawyer partly so I wouldn’t have to think about math.) After a couple of rounds of rejections we had our first meeting with the local professional writer who agreed to give us a private workshop—let’s call her Ms. Reality Check. We drove to her house in the country, handed her a cool grand, and perched on the edge of our folding chairs like baby birds waiting for mama’s return. We waited for words of wisdom, for insight into our manuscript. For the name of an agent. “What’s your Proof Statement?” she asked us. We looked at each other and stammered inaudibly for a few moments. You’d think two litigators would feel comfortable answering a question on the spot, but this didn’t come from the bench. Now we had to defend our own personal work, our passion, our proverbial baby. And we were afraid she’d kick us to the curb (or the gravel road, as it were) when she found out we were mere amateurs; that we didn’t even know what a Proof Statement was. (A ridiculous fear, really, because who else would pay for a professional writer to butcher their life’s work if not an amateur? I doubt Stephen King pays the Castle Rock junior college English professor to give him pointers). Ms. Reality Check elaborated.
“Every written work must have a Proof Statement. Every single word in your manuscript should support your Proof Statement. You should write it down and tape it to your computer. It should state, ‘I am writing this to prove that . . . .’”
My heart stopped.
“So,” she continued, “what’s your Proof Statement? Why are you writing this book?”
Kris and I glanced at each other. I’ve never asked her, but I can bet some of my initial thoughts were somersaulting through her cerebral cortex, too. We’re writing to prove we’re more than litigators. We’re writing to prove law school was just a stepping stone on the path to bigger and better things. We’re writing to prove it’s possible to pay down mountains of student loan debt without selling our souls to the firm. We’re writing to prove that tax law and the rules of intestate succession and the elements of inchoate crimes didn’t suck all the creative juices from our marrow.
But I responded, “We’re writing to prove you can’t have it all.”
Kris’s eyes met mine in an ocular high five. We leaned back in anticipation of Ms. Reality Check's praise.
“That’s not a Proof Statement,” she said. “It’s a truism. Try again. Come back when you have one.”
Oh crap. We had toiled, for years, over 350 pages that had no proof statement and, therefore, no purpose. We struggled for two weeks to come up with a Proof Statement, and finally landed on, “We’re writing to prove that everyone has to make difficult choices when they try to have it all.” She loved it. Now, why our first stab was a truism, but this was a Proof Statement is still a bit filmy, but I’m over it at this point. And I will say, despite my initial grumblings (I seriously considered asking for a refund and vowing to only show my work to family members who would, no doubt, lavish it with praise), the Proof Statement helped us have a focal point, especially when our writing felt forced. More often than not, when we struggled we’d come back to the Proof Statement and realize the scene didn’t shore up the book’s theme. Many well-written, witty sentences became victims of the delete key because they didn’t fit the Proof Statement. At least one character lost her fictional life—erased from the pages forever because we realized she was superfluous. The Proof Statement solidified our vision . . . who knew? I, for one, will never sit down to write another piece without taking that pivotal first step. And yet, we didn’t come up with a Proof Statement before beginning this blog. So why are we writing? To feel relevant? To work together again? To satiate our lust for the written word? Probably all of the above, but if I had to distill it down to one overly broad thematic sentence . . . we’re writing this blog to prove that there’s life after rejection . . . even if we have to artificially create it.

1 comment:

Kim said...

Proof Statement-- I have never heard of it. But it is a very decent way to get out of bed every morning.
"By getting out of bed, I am proving that...." and then I lose it slightly.


I love the journey. Can't wait to hear what's next