Grasshoppers In Your Hair… Er, Writing

Several years ago, when Rob and I were just a couple of college kids, we decided to go see a movie. As we stood in the ticket line, I noticed there was a grasshopper in the girl’s hair in front of us. She had that crazy curly kind of hair that can only be tamed with a huge amount of gel, so I guess maybe the grasshopper was attracted to the smell of her hair product or something. Regardless of the grasshopper’s motivation, he was really enjoying his new perch, and I could tell he wasn’t going anywhere without a fight. Not wanting this poor girl to walk into the theater with a bug in her hair, I swatted it out with my hand.

The girl, having felt my swat, turned around and gave me a confused look.

“There was a grasshopper in your hair,” I explained, pointing at the offending insect as it bounded through the crowd of moviegoers.

The girl eyed the grasshopper, then turned an icy stare back to me. “You know,” she said with a condescending air, “you should probably have just told me.”

“Huh?” I said.

“Next time, just tell me there’s a grasshopper in my hair. Or ask me if you can get it out.”

I balked at her. Seriously? She preferred that I just tell her there was a bug in her hair instead of getting it out? Or ask her permission to get it out? Was there a chance she wanted this thing in her corkscrew locks? Would it have been less offensive to her to have an insect remain in her gelled curls as opposed to my fingers grazing approximately six strands of hair in a successful attempt at removing it?

I could not understand her reasoning. And ever since then – well, okay, for at least ten minutes afterwards – I remained baffled as to why my good intentions went so awry. If there had been a grasshopper in my hair, I thought to myself, I would certainly have wanted her to get it out. Nobody wants a bug in their hair.

Years later, after marrying Rob and (until today) forgetting all about Grasshopper Girl, I find myself diving into the world of writing. And, as we all know, this comes with a hefty amount of criticism. Sometimes there are grasshoppers – metaphorically speaking – in my writing, and I can’t see them. I have to rely on a good Samaritan to swat them away for me. Otherwise, I’ll walk around with them all day, oblivious to the fact that they’ve got their little grasshopper feet stuck into the meat of my manuscript.

What are these so-called grasshoppers? They can be anything from a major plot hole, to a character that doesn’t serve a purpose, to an ending that doesn’t satisfy. They can be too much background information or too little. And once they get their legs tangled up in your manuscript gel, it’s game over until somebody smacks them out of the way.

And that’s what it takes, isn’t it? Somebody to say, “Hey, this is really terrible. You need to cut this right now. In fact, let me just go ahead and delete it for you.” And before you can protest, it’s done. The grasshopper is gone, bounding away into the crowd.

What do you think? Are you good at spotting the proverbial grasshoppers in your writing? Weird metaphors aside, what are some of the biggest problems you’ve totally missed, only to have someone else be like, “Seriously? You never noticed that?” And how do you react when someone points out problems with your manuscript? Are you grateful that the problem was addressed, or do you get defensive and a little mad like the girl with the curly hair?

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24 thoughts on “Grasshoppers In Your Hair… Er, Writing

  1. Heather says:

    I know there are grasshoppers all over my MS. It’s still pretty new, so right now it’s like a plague – full of locusts. So I like it when someone swats at my grasshoppers (or at least tells me they’re there by commenting on it or striking them through) Sometimes maybe I want the grasshopper to hang out. Maybe it’s munching on a piece of grass I left there especially for it. Usually though I tell it to GO AWAY.

    Great story, though! If it had been me, I would have been so grateful, mostly because I wouldn’t have wanted a bug in my hair, so I would have been glad that you got rid of it before I even had to know it was there.

  2. DL Hammons says:

    The grasshopper could be sitting on my nose and I’d still miss it. I rely heavily on people to point them out to me and consequently can’t afford to get defensive when they do so, even if its un-solicited.

    What if it turns out to be a scorpion?

  3. Alexandra Shostak says:

    Two things come to mind when reading this (and before I get into it, I much rather that people get bugs out of my hair BEFORE they tell me, or I scream and writhe and usually nothing gets done about the darn bug.)

    Anyway, first is that I love it when people point out things in my writing that are bad or don’t make sense or don’t satisfy. Even if for nothing else than it gives me a different perspective on something I think is fine, it’s always helpful (unless delivered in a really tactless “you suck and should go work at Wal*mart” kind of way.) That’s why I have critique partners.

    BUT, I hate it when people rewrite or fix it FOR me. I’ve definitely had the experience of not just “here, let me delete that for you” but, “here, let me rewrite this entire scene or batch of dialogue for you.” That really bothers me, because I feel like it’s overstepping a bound, and I feel disrespected, like that I couldn’t have done it myself, so that person had to do it for me.

    However… I don’t think that removing the grasshopper from the girls hair is the same thing as totally rewriting someone’s scene ๐Ÿ˜‰

  4. Courtney-The Southern Princess says:

    ooohhh. LOVE this. I am not always that good at spotting the Grasshoppers, but try so hard to be. So long as the criticism is constructive I handle it well, its when someone bashes your work just to show they can cause a reaction…

    I am like you with the girl, I would have been baffled by her reaction.

    Great post!

    Visit My Kingdom Anytime

  5. Courtney Reese says:

    I love you, Anne! This was a terrific post! I was having this problem very recently. I’d much rather someone swat the bugs out before they tell me that my MS has some…stuff stuck in it.

  6. Anne Riley says:

    Heather: You crack me up! I can just see you with your little grasshopper, petting it while it eats some grass out of your hand. And I totally know what you mean about a brand new MS being full of locusts. I feel your pain. Ugh.

  7. Anne Riley says:

    Alexandra: Yeah, rewriting someone’s scene for them is sort of like smashing the grasshopper into their hair and then rubbing its guts into their scalp, and being like, “What? I was just trying to help.” Great comment. Thanks!

  8. Anne Riley says:

    Courtney SP: Yes – the criticism definitely has to be constructive, yet firm. If people sugar coat things too much, I don’t take them as seriously as I should.

  9. Anne Riley says:

    Courtney R: Thanks! And yeah, me too. I want people to be like, get this outta my house! And just clean it out.

  10. Melissa Garrett says:

    Isn’t this why we have critique groups, to swat away the grasshoppers (brilliant metaphor, btw!)? I can’t imagine the typos and plot holes I’d let slide in my MS if not for my readers pointing them out to me. Swat it away! Get it out!

  11. Jemi Fraser says:

    Great analogy! I can swat some of my own grasshoppers now – couldn’t do it a year ago. And I still need some help. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My crit buddies are great – they are honest, but they’re also kind – a really good combination! I’m not sure how well I’d handle a real-life crit session though ๐Ÿ™‚

  12. Harley D. Palmer says:

    I get a little embarassed and giggle. It’s like “Really Harley? How could you miss THAT? It’s so obvious?” This is especially true when it’s something that has bugging me but I didn’t know how to fix it or exactly what was wrong. Then when someone else points it out to me it’s like DUH!

  13. Dean from Australia says:

    I have phantom grasshoppers now. Even after the multitudes of structural editing my novel received in the run up to print, I still see them phantoms even now…even though they aren’t there…or maybe they are…*squinting eyes – rolled up iPad comes out*

    So long as it doesn’t stifle my ‘voice’ I’m happy for anyone to run a truck through my grasshoppers

  14. Anne Riley says:

    Melissa: Absolutely! And I think the key is to have a willingness to allow the swatting. Otherwise, your writing just won’t improve as much as it could. Thanks for commenting!

  15. Anne Riley says:

    Jemi: I know what you mean. Having these editors critique my work – people that don’t know me at all and are being very, very honest – it’s tough, it really is. But it’s necessary, too.

  16. Anne Riley says:

    Harley: I think this happens to everyone! And after a few rounds of it, I think most people get better at spotting and identifying the problems themselves. It just takes a loooong time to get that good at it!

  17. Anne Riley says:

    Dean: Yeah, I have a feeling everyone keeps seeing them, even after their book has been published for a long time! I bet that’s frustrated, but you’ve just got to let it go at some point, I guess.

  18. Heather says:

    After I finished laughing I contemplated the wisdom of your post. Loved it! I’m not good at spotting the grasshoppers, though I’m getting better. I may protest at first when someone tells me it’s there, but then I drop my defenses and realized they’re right and it needs to come out!

  19. Catherine says:

    Great story! It reminds me of my daycamp adventures. Seems I had a daddy longlegs crawling up my back one day, and the girl behind me was brave enough to swat it off. I didn’t get upset. I think I cried tears of gratitude and vowed never to go back to a camp with spiders again (yeah, I’ve always preferred the outdoors from the relative safety of my car…but I’m trying to loosen up).

    With my writing – I usually remain open to comments. I posted my first chapter so I could get feedback, and I learned a few things about story holes. Things you know (about your story/character), and think you’ve managed to convey…but clearly have not. It is of tremendous help to have readers willing to share their thoughts with you.

    The only time I wasn’t open to a suggestion – one offered/forced by a developmental editor. He didn’t like the fact that my character flirts with other women. Called him a cad or something worse (it’s all a blur of shouting, so I cannot remember his exact words). He was rather upset that I wouldn’t change this character trait (or fatal flaw if you side with the developmental editor). I think maybe he has trust or infidelity issues, so possibly that clouded his advice.

    As you can probably tell, I wasn’t not thrilled with his comments about my character. I don’t think flirting is the same as say – cold-blooded murder or abusing animals. I think I was more upset that the editor said nasty things about my character simply because I wouldn’t make that change.

    I guess it comes down to how the advice is offered – the spirit or attitude, if you will.

    Catherine

  20. Anne Riley says:

    Heather: I think that’s sometimes the way I work, too – but if I’m defensive, it’s only because I suspect they’re right!

  21. Anne Riley says:

    Catherine: Absolutely! There has to be a concrete reason behind the change – not just one person’s opinion due to a past experience or some sort of hangup. There needs to be something concrete the person can point to, like, “This character adds nothing to the story,” or “This conversation makes no sense because of what this character did two chapters ago.” If a person doesn’t have a good reason like that for changing something, but they try to make you change it anyway, they’re WAY overstepping their bounds.

  22. Kierah Jane says:

    I loved this analogy! If someone is going to point out grasshoppers in my hair, I would rather they also point out how beautiful and shiny my hair is, and how the auburn highlights are really played up in the sunlight, giving my hair a lot of texture and volume, and how my haircut is totally flattering to my face and how nice it smells. Then I don’t care how many grasshoppers they point out.

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