Category Archives: Meaningless Drivel

How Do You Know You’re Growing as a Writer?

I’m not sure how to open this post. I thought about playing the simile card and saying something about how becoming a better writer is a lot like becoming a better other thing – a better architect, a better juggler, a better OPI color namer, a better human. That would have been entirely true. And entirely boring.

I also considered manufacturing a conversation between a beginning writer and a seasoned writer that could foreshadow the post’s inevitable wisdom. I probably would have included an exchange like this:

Seasoned Writer: I’m told you want to know how I got to be me.

Beginning Writer: Yes. Tell me what to do, oh wise sage.

Seasoned Writer: Was that sarcasm?

Beginning Writer: Sarcasm? I’m not sure what you mean.

Seasoned Writer: Never mind. You want to know how to grow as a writer.

Beginning Writer: Yes, master.

Seasoned Writer: First of all, stop attributing wisdom to someone just because he’s older. Secondly, learn sarcasm. But most of all, read a lot and write a lot.

Beginning Writer: That’s it?

Seasoned Writer: Yup.

Beginning Writer: It’s that simple?

Seasoned Writer: Who said anything about it being simple? If it were simple, writers wouldn’t feel compelled to add one more thing to this list.

Beginning Writer: One more thing? There’s another thing to do? Tell me. I want to do it. What is it?

Seasoned Writer: Drink a lot.

But that sort of opening would have a 70 percent chance of inviting the eye-roll twins of obviousness and pretentiousness.

So instead, I’ll skip the meaningless drivel and get right to a list of things that answers the question posed by the post title. Here, then, is some meaningful drivel. I mean here are some clues that let you know you’re growing as a writer.

  • You are finally beginning to understand why some of your writer-friends enter a meditative state of humble reverence whenever the name Marilynne Robinson is mentioned.
  • You recognize your progression from careless adverb abuser to adamant adverb hater to champion of whatever word works best even if it’s an adverb.
  • You remove the pins from the voodoo doll that bears a striking resemblance to your editor and start dressing it in only mildly embarrassing outfits borrowed from your daughter’s Barbie collection.
  • You know when you’ve written a brilliant sentence and this knowledge brings a moment of pure pleasure that quickly morphs into something resembling abject terror.
  • Your mother/husband/bff unintentionally reveals what she/he thought about all your previous writing when commenting with unchecked surprise about your newest work, “You wrote this? Really?”
  • You’re reading fewer “how to write” books and blogs, not because you exhausted them all (you tried) but because you find that these days you’re learning more simply by reading great fiction.
  • You thought about starting a writing blog because you want to help other fledgling authors but then scrapped the idea because you’d rather be writing your novel and, really, how much time is there in a day?
  • You notice beginner mistakes in published works and, after a moment to decry the sorry state of traditional publishing, find yourself wondering if “smugness” is really so terrible a thing to feel after all.
  • You embrace the revision process not because you read somewhere that you’re supposed to but because you know it’s necessary.
  • You’ve gained ten pounds and can rightly blame five of those on the siren’s call of your laptop. (Feel free to blame the other five on the donuts.)
  • You’ve traveled from “truly inspired by” through “totally depressed by” to “often challenged by” another author’s brilliant writing.
  • You have a love/hate relationship with everything you write and welcome this as the necessary push and pull of critical thinking.
  • You look back at your early writing and convulse in laughter.
  • You look at your current writing and know that someday you’ll look back on it and not convulse in laughter so much as smile a knowing smile.
  • You have no idea where your thesaurus went and you don’t care.
  • You’ve stopped saying “I want to be a writer.”

Your Book Reviews Are In

I’ve been to the future. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Quintuple-stuff Oreos. The reanimation of Walt Disney*. Laundry robots. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion.

And the reviews for your novel. No, not the one you’re writing now, the next one. The one you’re certain is the best possible work you could ever do. (Wait, don’t scrap the one you’re currently writing. It’s the best possible work you could ever do. For now.)

The Time Lords wouldn’t let me bring back a laundry robot, but they couldn’t stop me from memorizing what people will say about your novel. Here are just a few of the reviews. Most came from Amazon.com. Yeah, they totally own the future. I can’t tell you more or they’ll suspend my Kindle-reading privileges in the now.

_________

[Five Stars] Brilliant!!!! The best book I’ve read in like, forever!! I mean it, seriously. The plot is perfect. The characters are perfect. The font is perfect. It’s like, if Twilight (remember that?) had been written by Hemingway or Steinway or whatever that guy’s name was. It is totally. That. Good. Buy it. Right now. Did I mention how brilliant this book is?

Disclaimer: This book was given to me by a total stranger who said I could keep it only if I promised to give a totally unbiased review. I’m pretty sure “unbiased” means “really positive.” But if I got that wrong, well, then I’d probably rate it three stars. I didn’t like the font that much.

 

[One Star] Don’t. Bother. The characters were thinner than the paper books used to be printed on. The plot has a hole bigger than the one in the ozone layer. (And that’s really big, because this is the future and the ozone layer is practically depleted.) I really wanted to give the book a chance because of all the “unbiased” five-star reviews, but apparently all these five-star reviewers think “un-biased” means “totally inaccurate and obnoxiously hyperbolic.” Check out this excerpt from page 49:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I mean…seriously? Who writes this crap? I’d have given this zero stars, but I feel it’s only fair to acknowledge the hard work of writing a book. The author probably gave up an entire November to write it. One star for commitment. Zero for content.

 

[Four Stars] Loved this book. After a strong start (the scene by the newspaper kiosk was perfect), I was completely taken by Hannah and Jack. They reminded me of my real life story (apart from Hannah killing her father and all the time-traveling, of course). When Hannah lost Jack the third time my heart started racing and I just had to check and see what percentage of the book I’d read. I was praying there was at least another ten percent – enough for Jack to come back. Thankfully, I was only at 83 percent. The next seven percent or so was probably the weakest part of the story, but the last ten percent? Totally worth it. I can only hope this wasn’t the best possible work the author ever will do. I want more. Oh, and I almost forgot: spoiler alert.

 

[Zero Stars] The file I got was all screwed up. I couldn’t even read it. Digital books suck.

 

[Three Stars ] Solid, if unspectacular novel. I mean, it was good for what it is – a time-traveling love story. But nothing will ever be as good as The Time Traveler’s Wife. While this one might have had fewer factual errors (everyone knows you can’t meet yourself in the past – that just screws everything up), the characters didn’t do it for me. I believed Jack’s story, but Hannah seemed more like a petulant child than a heartbroken lover. The action scenes are great, though. The author really knows her way around Union Station. I felt like I was right there. Overall, it was a decent escape, worth the price of digital but definitely not one I’d get in heirloom paper.

 

[Five Stars] Best book I’ve ever read. And I don’t even like time-traveling romances!

Disclaimer: I’m the author’s mother. She’s almost exactly like the character Hannah. Apart from the time traveling, of course. Her father would have been proud. We miss him.

 

[Two Stars] I haven’t read it yet, but from what I hear, it’s like Twilight except without vampires or werewolves. So what’s the point?

 

[Four Stars] Actually, four and a half stars. Wonderful story. Creative plot. Characters I actually care about. What else could a reader want? It did get bogged down in unnecessary details at about the halfway point, but I can accept a little Crichton-ization if the overal story is compelling. This one is. And the writing? Check this sentence out:

She grabbed the wheel from Jack and held on like she’d invented it.

I dare you not to fall in love with Hannah.

Highly recommended.

_________

 You’re welcome.


*Walt was visibly upset when told about Disney’s purchase of Miramax but calmed down after he learned about Pixar.

A Day in the Life of a Freelance Editor

You might think what a freelance editor does all day is worthy of a blog post. That would be a classic example of wrong thinking. But for the sake of filling this space I’m going to tell you anyway and since I just established that a freelance editor’s day isn’t all that interesting, some of the details below will be complete fabrication. Feel free to decide which ones.

6:14 AM – Get urgent phone call from Stephen King pleading with you to be his editor for the upcoming sequel to Under the Dome, provisionally titled Under an Even Bigger Dome – a project that pays by the word. Say “yes,” then mumble something stupid like “my name is Stephen too, how cool is that!”

6:33 AM – Figure out how to defeat the army of dragons that got in through the open bedroom window before they storm the poster of an Irish castle on your wall.

7:41 AM – Wake up.

7:42 AM – Check your phone to see if Stephen King called. Check the walls for scorch marks. Close the window.

8:16 AM – Go to the gym. While on the treadmill, solve a plot problem in a book you edited a year ago that’s already in bookstores. While on the stationary bike, solve a plot problem in a book you’re currently editing. Decide never to use the treadmill again.

9:24 AM – Put leftover pizza from night before in the fridge so you can throw it away next week.

9:25 AM – Eat a donut.

9:27 AM – Eat another donut.

9:30 AM – You really shouldn’t eat another donut.

9:41 AM – Shower. While in the shower, solve a plot problem in a TV show you saw last week.

10:11 AM – Arrive at your satellite office: Starbucks. Reserve a table by dropping your laptop on it despite evil stares from the 27 bestselling-authors-in-waiting in line ahead of you. Order coffee. And a donut.

10:29 AM – Open file for the novel, Nothing But Dragons. Scroll to where you left off on page 139 and begin reading. Scroll back to page 94 to see if the mage on page 139 is telling a lie on purpose or if it’s a continuity error. Determine it’s a continuity error and order another donut. Make notes about how to solve the plot problem. Resume editing.

3:30 PM – Calculate number of pages you edited per hour. Calculate number of waking hours left until your deadline next Tuesday. Divide the second number by the first and get Divide by Zero error. Google “Divide by Zero error.” Follow random link to article about the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Pray they discover time travel before Tuesday.

3:35 PM – Realize you forgot to eat lunch. Decide to eat early supper instead. Go to the same restaurant you always go to and order the same thing you always order.

4:41 PM – Return home. Settle in at your desk.

4:51 PM – Re-arrange stacks of paper and unread mail. Rearrange work schedule to find more hours in a day. Bump editorial review of Hey Look, I’m In Love With the Wrong Guy But it Will All Work Out in the End until later in the month. Email author with explanation and apology and lots of affirming words about her writing that are absolutely sincere even though later in the month you’ll send her a 12-page document describing all the things that need work.

5:22 PM – Get back to the Dragons edit. Determine that Herman the Conqueror is not conquer-y enough. Make notes to that effect and suggest solutions.

9:35 PM – Get up from your desk. Try to ignore sucking sound as the chair breathes a sigh of relief.

9:39 PM – Fix yourself a delicious, healthy snack like fresh veggies or in-season fruit.*

9:49 PM – Turn on TV to watch 11 minutes of some show you can’t remember the name of but the actress looks familiar and wait didn’t she sign a book deal last week and what’s the deal with that?

10:01 PM – Drink something besides Diet Coke while catching up on DVR’d TV shows.

11:18 PM – Wonder where the time went. Wonder where the remote went. Wonder why there’s an empty wine bottle on the TV tray.

11:27 PM – Climb into bed with your Kindle. Look longingly at the list of books you purchased and planned to read before Armageddon. Select a client’s manuscript instead. Begin reading.

1:13 AM – Close Kindle. Check date on your phone and subtract one to figure out what day it was.

1:19 AM – Fall asleep and dream of dragons who fall in love with the wrong guy but it all works out in the end.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

 

*Or just open a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup Minis and a can of Diet Coke.

 

 

 

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 Amazon.com 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.


Vivisection

If you watch a writer in a coffee shop, you won’t be particularly impressed by her work. You might not even notice that she’s working. The external act of writing is a mundane thing. It is quiet, often deathly so.

ten fingers tapping

long sighs and silent swearing

insomnia cure

You have to slice a writer in half to reveal the invisible truth.

Writing is sudden bursts of brilliance racing ahead with yellow-jersey speed while you labor to catch up with tricycle typing fingers.

It’s a magnificent ache and pointless pursuit sandwich smothered in what-the-hell-was-I-thinking sauce.

It’s creation and destruction. Hope and despair. Love and love and more love.

And death. Lots of death.

It’s making friends and enemies. Then making enemies of friends with a press of the delete button.

It’s a whisper where a shout should be and a shout where the story is yelling at you to whisper.

Writing shrieks like that child screaming for another cookie. It cries like that old man who used to come every Sunday with his wife but now sits alone.

Writing is an empty balloon where your brain should be. It’s a world on the tip of your tongue. It’s a thunderstorm and a desert, a song and an empty stage.

It’s walls everywhere you turn…

You want to jump off a bridge. Wait…a bridge. Yes!

…and inspiration when you least expect it.

Writing is the reason “argh!” is a word.

Your wrists hurt, your head hurts, your heart hurts. You want to throw the computer across the room. You want to marry it.

Writing is a beautiful violence.

But you wouldn’t know it by watching a writer in a coffee shop.

ten fingers tapping

paradox of perfect calm

she is building worlds