Sunday, November 29, 2009

The 'Moaning Chair'

I just learned a new word over at The Bilge—it’s  not just a nautical word, but also a concept:

The ‘Moaning Chair.’
I know, that's 2 words (unless you include 'the', then it's 3).

Without getting all technical on you, here’s how Mr. Left summed it up for me:

“The origins of the "Moaning chair" is the need to sit down and hold your head from exploding after you spent a day and a half doing something completely bass ackwards. Or completely undoing in 30 seconds that it took you a week to do. The moaning chair often has a cooler of beer and a bottle of rum next to it.”
Here's another great description, by Norm Bernstein.

It occurs to me that not only do boat builders need a moaning chair, but so do we as writers, especially those of us who are in the middle of the learning curve. It’s for those times when we learn a new rule, especially something like ‘don’t use Past Participle Phrases.’ Then we realize (after we do the research so we can figure out what the heck the term even means), that our manuscript is loaded with them. Now we’re paranoid about adding ‘ing’ to any word.

Or when we’ve overextended ourselves on word count—we wrote a 150K YA novel without bothering to find out that 70-80K is the outside limit. Time to kill our little darlings.

And then we start second guessing our entire premise (or a good chunk of it), our characters’ motivations, our writing skills and true potential (or lack thereof).
Oh, what’s the use?...

And I won’t even talk about when it’s querying time and all we get is rejection after rejection, and it occurs to us that it could have something to do with the fact that our ‘Women’s Fiction’ is actually Commercial/General/Literary Fiction, and we just blew our chance with a bunch of agents. (I mean really, who ever heard of Women’s Fiction narrated in first person by a guy?! [I know, I know, don’t rub it in].) Surely, it was that and not all those Past Participle Phrases…
Oh, right, that’s only happened to me…

Probably a good time to pull out the moaning chair, cry our eyes out, then take a deep breath and consider all our options (likely, with the help of that beer or rum). I think every writer’s/critique group should have a moaning chair over in the corner so that when we make stupid mistakes, we can go sit in it and think about what we’ve done.

Yes, the moaning chair is there for pitying ourselves, but it’s also there so we can rest a bit, regroup and clarify out thoughts—it’s where we decide there is a solution, where our writing buddies come over and pull us up (or share that beer), and then we get back to work.

When’s the last time you needed a ‘moaning chair?’


  1. I could've used one a couple weeks ago when I decided to rewrite one of my WIPs from a different POV. It's going well now, but I was dreading it when the thought hit me that that was what I needed to do.

  2. Yes, I know that one. I think that’s what I may need to do with my YA.
    Glad it’s working out for you!

  3. You do have a 'moaning chair,' don't you, Bane?

  4. I need a moaning chair right now, I'm at a complete standstill on my revisions, or maybe I just need a swift kick.

  5. What seems to be the problem, Deb?

  6. Just a little writing will pass :)

  7. I haven't written anything long enough to need a moaning chair. I guess I can't get too emotional over a 4,000 word story.

    It's coming, though. The novel is looming on the horizon, so I'll keep my eyes peeled for a good moaning chair. I think mine'll look a lot like a barstool... :)

  8. "I think mine'll look a lot like a barstool... :)"

    I thought you might say that ;)

  9. I need one of those about once a week! (and pass the bottle of Chardonnay please...)

  10. Okay, I’m really confused about the Matilda vs. Mary Jo thing, but anyway...

    I’m sitting in mine right now, but it’s too early to start drinking.

  11. I think I need a moaning chair every single day.

  12. Susan, I think you and I are sharing the same one!

  13. Here's another use for 'moaning chairs' as described by yacht designer and builder L. Francis Herreshoff in his book "The Compleat Cruiser":

    "When you are building a boat of any kind there will always be one or two of the neighbors who will want to tell you how to do it, and I find that if there are a couple of comfortable chairs out of the way it is much better to have them smoke themselves into semi-consciousness than have them in the way, leaning up against the work bench. I have trained myself to entirely disregard their conversation and they do not bother me at all. I simply say every few seconds, 'Yes.' "Is that so?' or 'You don't say so!' In this way, they have the satisfaction of being great oracles while all the time I am quite undisturbed."

  14. Thanks for whetting my appetite for the book; I ordered it from Amazon several days ago!

    I think one could also stretch an application of that for writers…

  15. Oh, I could definitely use a moaning chair (preferably while drinking an Abita beer and wearing a dunce cap). I'm dreading... DREADING... the revisions of my novel. Thank goodness I still have beta-reading to do. Keeps my mind occupied elsewhere. ;-)

  16. Laura, I sit and then get up from mine about 10 times a day!

  17. I'm with you on that one! (And I have my hubby to thank for getting me outta the chair - "Quit your moaning!" he says. What a guy.)