Category Archives: Beyond Categorization

10 Things Writers Can Learn from a Brick

All those “list” posts for writers annoy me. Especially the ones I’ve written. Most especially, this one:

1. A brick is skilled at staying on task. Put one in front of a computer, it will sit there for hours.

2. A brick doesn’t jump in front of a truck when it gets a rejection letter.

3. A brick understands the importance of structure.

4. A brick rarely complains on Twitter and Facebook about the unfairness of bricklayers.

5. A brick isn’t jealous of other bricks. (Except those at J. K. Rowling’s house.)

6. A brick doesn’t stress over its ranking.

7. A brick can build a bridge or start a revolution.

8. A brick isn’t perfect. It’s okay with that.

9. With a little help, a brick can fly.

10. Bricks never waste your time with “10 Things…” posts.

Totally Believable Publishing Predictions for 2011

My predictions are based on extensive eavesdropping at my local Starbucks. Additional data supplied by that one night when I might have accidentally taken too much cough medicine before bed.

1. Barnes & Noble and Borders will merge after all and call their new stores “Noble Borders.” This will result in the closing of nearly half of existing stores, leaving thousands of bookish employees out of work. In an unrelated story, there will be a significant rise in the literary quality of panhandlers’ signs.

2. Amazon will release a Kindle Reader app for Sony Playstation 3, Microsoft XBOX 360, Nintendo Wii, Casio digital watches and the Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Silver Edition graphing calculator.

3. J. K. Rowling will publish a writing craft book titled Hairy Plotter – The Challenges of Keeping Track of Everything You’ve Written Since There’s No Such Thing as Google Search for Your Pensieve, then accidentally sue herself for brand infringement when she discovers it while browsing for new books on her Nintendo Wii Kindle Reader.

4. The infinite monkeys/typewriters project will finally yield a Shakespearean play to surprisingly little fanfare. Probably because the play they come up with is Titus Andronicus.

5. James Cameron’s new book publishing subsidiary, King of the Written World, will introduce the first 3D e-reader, the Eye-3 (aka: the Eye, Eye, Eye). “The words literally pop off the page for a more interactive reading experience!” [Note: Early tests with the device will reveal that the words don’t literally pop off the page at all. It’s more of a figurative popping, though just as painful.]

6. The collaborative memoir, We’re Not the Same Person, by Jesse Eisenberg and Michael Cera will become a surprise bestseller, only to be knocked from the top spot by the release of their followup, Okay Fine. We Are.

7. The Internet will become self-aware and tell Google to “Go search yourself!”

8. James Patterson will finally admit that he’s actually triplets.

9. Sarah Palin will publish her first work of fiction. Wait, it’s just a re-release of her memoir. Never mind.

10. Bono, The Edge and Julie Taymor will announce their next Broadway collaboration – a musical adaptation of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Unabridged. With acrobatics. And a new U2 song, “I’ve Lost My Place (In More Ways than One).”

11. James Franzen will self-publish a children’s picture book, a cautionary tale titled, Don’t Let Your Glasses Out of Your Sight.

12. I will write more than one post a month for this blog.

Trust me on these. Except maybe that last one.


It’s hard to look at.

The ache. The mistake. The longing. The breakup. The failure. The betrayal. The abandonment. The affair. The loss.

The sin.

When you sit down at your desk to write, it clears its throat. It’s hiding behind your lamp or tucked under an unpaid utility bill. It’s watching, waiting. It nods “go ahead.” It whispers “it will be okay.”

Instead, you turn away. You look down at your computer keyboard. You rest your fingers there.

ae ess dee eff, jay kay elle sem

You’ve done your research. You’ve read all the how-to books. You loved Stephen King’s On Writing and Betsy Lerner’s The Forest for the Trees. You’re a good writer. A damn good writer. And you’re writing a damn good novel.

Your plot is just one revision away from brilliant. You know how to build tension, how to raise the stakes. Your characters are smart. Funny. Interesting. Diverse. Believable.

But something still isn’t right.

There’s a layer missing.

You lift your fingers from the keys. You lean back in your chair. You stare out the window. You listen to an approaching siren. You sniff the air for the smell of smoke. You wonder about the neighbors – the ones with the new fireplace insert. They asked you how you liked yours. You told them it was great, “flick a switch, instant romance.” She said they’d have to get one. He said he’d install it himself.

The siren passes and fades.

Your fingers hover above the keys. You can feel the pulse in your neck. Your son will be home from school in an hour.

It clears its throat again.

The ache. The mistake. The longing. The breakup. The failure. The betrayal. The abandonment. The affair. The loss. The sin.


Your ache. Your mistake. Your longing. Your breakup. Your failure. Your betrayal. Your abandonment. Your affair. Your loss.

Your sin.

The missing layer.

You move the unpaid utility bill. You adjust the lamp. You inhale. You feel your heart beating in your chest.

You realize you’re holding your breath.

You exhale.

ae ess dee eff, jay kay elle sem

This is going to hurt.


Sticks and Stones and Words

Thick skin.

That’s what they say you have to have if you’re going to be a writer. Because someday someone will skewer your novel. Not may skewer it. But will.

It’s a given. A law. A little like Murphy’s law. A lot like the law of gravity.

Someone is going to hate your book. Really, truly despise it.

This will inevitably make you want to do one of the following:

a. Dig a hole. Climb into it. Stay there.

b. Push the writer of that review out of a helicopter without a parachute because anyone who can’t see the subtle brilliance of your prose needs to learn a lesson about great writing and what better way to prove your point than to reenact a scene from Dan Brown’s Angels and Demons.*

c. Hack into so you can replace the offending review with one your mother wrote in the family Christmas letter 27 years ago about the ashtray you made for her in kindergarten. “It was wonderful! Amazing! Made me want to take up smoking!”

But, as the theory goes, if you have a “thick skin,” the review won’t bother you at all. As you read how your protagonist “wouldn’t even be believable playing a stiff on a soap opera” and that your plot “drags more than J. Edgar Hoover” you’ll simply smile while the scent of lavender fills your nostrils and images of puppies and kittens frolicking in a field of poppies fill your mind.

There’s only one problem with this “thick skin” theory. It’s bullshit.

If someone calls you ugly, it hurts. Even though we both know you’re totally not ugly at all. In fact you’re quite good looking. Especially today. Did you get a haircut? It really suits you.

It’s no secret that we all want to be liked. Apparently, this is some absolute truth of the human condition. And what is your novel? It’s you. Pieces of you at the very least, and all of you if it’s your first novel. (Yes, we all know Ex Plus One Equals Love is actually a thinly disguised memoir chronicling that fifth year you spent in high school when you fell in love with your algebra teacher.)

So when someone says your novel sucks, it elicits the same response as if someone called you ugly. (No, you’re still not ugly. We already went over this. You’re cute and/or handsome and seriously sexy.) Thick skin is a myth writers made up because they desperately want it to be true. “All I have to do is wear the Thick Skin of Protection +4, and I will feel no pain.”

It doesn’t work that way. But…that’s okay.

Pain is good. Even the pain that comes from being lambasted by a clueless critic who wouldn’t know Wouk from a wok. It tells you you’re alive. And it also tells you something else, something critically important for a writer – it tells you that you care about your work. Yes! You. Care. About. Your. Work.

Forget trying to grow thick skin. Besides, you’d have to buy a whole new wardrobe. In a larger size. And don’t swing to the other side of the pendulum and complain about how thin your skin is. That just sounds like whining.

Write your book. Invest yourself in it. Do the best you can. And when someone says “your book is ugly,” go ahead and wince. Or scream. Or cry.

Then write another book. Not to prove that naysayer wrong. But because you wear the skin of a writer.

And that’s what writers do.

*I may not have remembered that right. I read Angels and Demons when I was suffering from both a deep depression and a nasty flu. Everything I read during that time was seen through a filter of Ache and Puke. I think that’s also the name of a book by Chuck Palahniuk. But I could be wrong about that, too.

Things I’ve Said on Twitter

This is a totally lame excuse for a post. It’s just a bunch of stuff I’ve tweeted over the past couple of months. Some of you have already been subjected to this madness and would rather be pecked to death by a sparrow than read it again. This isn’t for you. This is for those of you who don’t tweet…or who were too distracted by tweets about Justin Bieber to notice mine.

Many of these have something to do with writing. The rest have more to do with my personal psychoses. Feel free to offer your diagnosis in the comments.

While you amuse yourselves with this, I’ll go write a real post.

*Note of warning to those of you with severe OCD: These tweets are almost all in chronological order (from most recent to…not so recent). Did you notice that word “almost”? Yup. I did this to mess with your head.

Twitter recap 1
Twitter recap 2
Twitter recap 3
Twitter recap 4
Twitter recap 5

That should do it for today. Now you know what it’s like to be waterboarded. Thing is, I’ve got pages and pages of this crap. So you’ll probably see a few more pages the next time I pretend to care about how often I blog.

Now, back to that post I was writing. It’s about wasting readers’ time with filler.

No, it’s not. But wouldn’t that be clever and ironic?