Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Living inside the Monkey House

Living inside the monkey house has to be one of my all-time favorite analogies to describe when you're a little too close to your writing. I first heard it on Project Runway – did you see the episode? The one where Tim Gunn goes to check-in with one of the designers who, of all things, decided to use human hair in his designs? Tim Gunn very astutely described what it means to live inside the monkey house (I'm paraphrasing): When you first step inside a monkey house, the smell is horrific – it overloads your senses. But after a while, you start to become accustomed…and after a long while, you no longer smell the doo. That my friends, is living inside the monkey house.

Tim Gunn says, "Step outside of the monkey house!!"


How does this pertain to writing?

Well, sometimes, we as writers get a little TOO close to our work. So close, in fact, that we no longer smell the doo stinking up the place. I.e. the bad writing, the contrived plotlines, the cardboard characters walking around, the authorial intrusion permeating the entire thing. When this happens, we're not even aware of it. In fact, we're convinced that what we're writing is absolutely genius, and no matter what we do, we can do NO wrong.

Woah. WOAH.

This…this is when crit partners come in very handy. In short, you need someone to tell you… "Yo, this place smells like shiite."

It's very easy to get caught up in this. I've been there, and chances are, you have, too. It's not a sign that you're a bad writer. It's just a sign that perhaps we ALL need to take a few steps away from our work and get an aerial view. Look at the entire picture. Give ourselves some space and time away from our projects so that we're able to come back to it with our senses fresh and alert. You'd be surprised how something that seemed fine—great, even—will set your eyes a' waterin' the moment you step back to the project.

So, I guess my advice is this: Don't be afraid to step away from a project. Allow your senses to air out, and send it to people you can trust to tell you if you have indeed been living in a doo-infested stinkhole. The world and your book will thank you.



  1. Jen -- lol. I remember you used that term with me once upon a time. It was in regards to MOON and you thought I used "for" too many times, perhaps more so in the beginning but you weren't sure because you might be living inside the monkey house at this point. lol. Point taken. ;)

  2. Tee hee- great post, Jen. And here I'm thinking how perfectly it may well apply to me at the moment. Must get out of the monkey house once in a while and smell the roses, before all I can smell is the doo-doo :P

  3. LMAO Jen!

    And I'm sure the rancid stench of accumulated banana poop burns away a goodly number of our writerly brain cells, too. (g)

    Very good advice; I'll be sure to hose out my monkey house on a regular basis! ;-)

  4. Oh no! Don't do this to me Jen... i don't need an excuse to step away yet - gotta right the stinky doo doo of an ending first... Been thinking about it all week. Hope it doesn't smell too badly! [g]

  5. LOL! Perfect post. So true... I'm glad to have some faithful crit partners to take me out of the monkey house now and then. :P

  6. Kristen,

    Did I REALLY?? Oh my. I don't remember doing that. lol Well, whatever you're doing, it's working. (g)

  7. Claire,

    LOL! I think it applies to all of us at one time or another. (g)

  8. Rachel,

    Hose mine out while you're at it. It's fairly stinky at the moment. (g)

  9. Deniz,

    Definitely more important to finish. (g) Good on you...good luck!

  10. Susan,

    Thanks...yes, crit partners are INVALUABLE. :)