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 Amazon.com 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?

Trails for Rabbits and Writers. And Rabbits.

Struggling with your current work in progress? Good for you. I mean, it’s lovely and wonderful and all when the story just flows like gravy over the Spoon Ridge Mountains of your mashed potatoes, but if you ask me, struggle is a good thing.

You’re somewhere in the middle of your book, aren’t you. And you’re totally frustrated. And ready to quit. Actually, yes, I am psychic. You’re also not eating enough vegetables and you need to call your mother and the world is going to end in 2012.

But before you grab and drop your messterpiece in the virtual trash, read the rest of this blog post. Your novel may yet be salvageable.

I said may be salvageable. Because let’s face it, sometimes the whole project does belong in the trash. But usually, it’s just a few pages here and there that deserve such fate.

This is where I must pause and offer a moment of reverent silence for the Days of Typewriters and Correction Fluid. In those days (yes, I actually am old enough to remember those days, the proof of which can be found in my so-mild-it’s-almost-precious brain damage, an unavoidable result of inhaling the literary scent of a generation: Liquid Paper), there was only so much you could fix on a page before it started to look like a cheap hooker in bad Kabuki makeup. That’s when you would practice the time-honored rip, crumple and toss that reminded you in multi-sensory fashion just what a horrible writer you were. At least on that particular page. Sometimes, the joy of actually making a three-point shot in your wastebasket would cheer you up enough to return to your novel in progress with renewed vim and vigor. But probably just vigor. Vim doesn’t get out much. Same with flotsam and jetsam. Flotsam gets lots of solo dates. Jetsam? Nope.

Today, it’s too easy. Bad writing doesn’t engage enough of our senses. It’s just “click, drag, pop” accompanied by wind chimes and the chirping of happy sparrows. There’s no satisfying machine-gun gear-grind inevitably followed by a pained groan from a spouse or co-worker who respects machines far more than humans and considers the removal of a sheet of paper from typewriter by anything other than gentle spinning of the platen wheel a mortal sin.

I know, you young folks are all “what? Platen wheel? What?” Google it. Wait, no, don’t Google it. Go to the library and check out a book called an “encyclopedia.” It’s sort of like Google, except it’s better at pressing flowers.

While you’re at the library, go to the fiction section. Grab the dustiest hardcover you can find and remove it from the shelf. Open to somewhere in the middle. Read a paragraph or two. Then find a comfy chair and keep reading. When the librarian taps you on the shoulder and says “we’re closing in ten minutes,” do a quick inventory of the past few hours. Were you drawn inexorably into the story? Or did you fall asleep? If the former, use this as motivation to get back to your own novel in progress. Because, let’s face it, the writer of the dusty library book struggled as much as you did with the middle. She just kept at it, you know? Maybe she took a break and made a BLT, only without lettuce and tomatoes since she really only likes BLTs for the bacon, and this inspired a brilliant idea that the protagonist could be allergic to wheat bread which would then solve her problem of a stalled plot because he just got a job in a bakery. Or maybe she printed out the offending pages, crumpled them up one at a time and played wasteketball until she felt so guilty about her growing carbon footprint that she vowed never to buy bottled water again, which gave her the brilliant idea of making her protagonist a quirky environmentalist because that would create palpable tension between him and his Hummer-driving love interest. Or maybe she went to the library and pulled out a dusty book and sat in a comfy chair and fell asleep because it was really horribly boring.

And when she awoke, she felt just what you did moments ago when the librarian tapped you out of your slumber, an electric surge of superiority all writers politely deny in public but crave in secret that goes by the name: “I can write better than that hack.” And as you brushed away fading dreams of secret library rendezvous and monkeys with typewriters and correction fluid in a spray can that works on annoying people, you realized you can do this.

You can fix the middle. Because you’re a damn good writer. Better than that loser who put you to sleep, anyway.

So go do it. Crumple up a few pages and write some new ones.

But first you should probably make a BLT.

Just in case.

The end. Yup. Really. Feel free to dig for hidden wisdom in this post.

* * *

You may be wondering why I don’t post more often. Why don’t you tell me? Choose from the following, or make up your own answer.

  1. Because I’m lazy.
  2. Because I can’t write until the muse shows up and she’s lazy.
  3. Because I like being contrary and infrequent blogging is exactly the sort of thing blogging experts tell you not to do.
  4. Because more often than not I don’t have anything new to add to the conversation and I have little interest in saying the same old thing in the same old way. Besides, you can get that elsewhere.
  5. Because I’m sending a coded message to rebel authors who are preparing a literary coup of the current publishing regime. (Count the number of days between posts. Assign a letter of the alphabet to each of those numbers. Re-arrange the letters until they make sense, in a “literary coup” sorta way. Follow the instructions carefully.)