Monthly Archives: September 2007

Good Advice

I love interesting quotes. I tend to collect the ones that make me laugh or think or feel inspired. I sent one such quote to a friend and recently she sent it back to me (thank you, Mary). Here it is:

Go ahead and make something. Make something really special. Make something amazing that will really blow the mind of anybody who sees it.

If you try to make something just to fit your uninformed view of some hypothetical market, you will fail. If you make something special and powerful and honest and true, you will succeed . . . because your soul somehow depends on it. There’s something you haven’t said, something you haven’t done, some light that needs to be switched on, and it needs to be taken care of. Now.

- Hugh Macleod


And that made me remember something I read a while back on Neil Gaiman’s blog, in a post dated May 9, 2007:

As for deadlines…

Like a hanging, I find they concentrate the mind wonderfully.

The best suggestion I can make is to stop doing other things. Turn off the computer, or take a laptop somewhere they don’t have wireless. Don’t play solitaire or bring a mobile phone. Then write.

It’s amazing how much time you can spend not writing, without even trying. Make a rule that you can either write, or not do anything at all. (No TV. No long baths. No reading New Scientist. Staring out of the window is okay.) Pretty soon, you start to write, because it’s more interesting than staring vacantly out of the window. (I think I got it from a Daniel Pinkwater essay in Fish Whistle, and it’s a wonderful concept.)


It occurs to me that the hardest advice to follow is advice directed specifically at us. Too often it sounds patronizing or judgmental or simply misguided. It is sometimes easier to appropriate advice given to others and take its lessons as our own, in our own time, of our own volition.

Right now, these particular words strike a chord that resonates deep within me. I plan to take heed. Just thought I’d share.

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I just had an apostrophe!

Or epiphany, for those of you unfamiliar with my daughter’s delightfully strange talent for twisting words.

Most of you reading this know I’ve been preparing a partial manuscript to send to an agent. But I’ve been putting off sending it because I wasn’t happy with it and I wasn’t sure why. It just felt wrong. But I couldn’t see the problem. Sooo, I signed up to have Bob Mayer do a Submission Critique.

Wow. (< — biggest understatement ever)

Some of you have heard about Bob’s reputation for stark, incisive honesty and I can tell you it is very well deserved. He really does know what he’s doing and will not hesitate to tell you if he thinks you do not. So now I know what the problems are. Yes, more than one. Most of them so obvious, in hindsight, it’s rather horrifying. He had a lot to say (yes, really) and every single thing he said was right. Damn it.

After I got his critique, I went through a long agonizing period of time — okay, so it was only about a day, but it felt like forever — when I decided to stop writing. Just stop. That’s it, I’m done, I can’t do this. I’m not even qualified to write a grocery list, let alone an entire book. This is for the best, really. Good to know this now before I waste any more time. I need to just stop kidding myself here. I can not write.

Hearing hard truths about your writing is difficult — another understatement — but it is also incredibly helpful. So after I’d gone through half a box of Kleenex and exchanged a couple more emails (which were quite encouraging, by the way), I had a stern talk with myself and came to some conclusions.

This process was painful but it was not fatal, to me or my writing career. I am a writer. I’m not going to stop writing. If I stop I can’t get better and I am determined to get better.

I knew the work had problems. That was why I asked for help. Good for me. It should not be a big surprise that it came back covered in red ink. Of course, I wasn’t expecting quite so much of it . . . Sigh. But the comments didn’t say “you can’t write,” they pointed out some problems. Some really big, difficult, obvious, can’t believe I missed that problems, but still. I can fix problems, now that I can see them.

However. Some of the comments and questions really made me stop and think. Hard. And reevaluate what I’m writing and why. And I made a couple of amazing discoveries. We’re talking light bulbs flashing and planets colliding and journeys being re-charted here, folks. You ready for this? Because I sure was not.

Apostrophe #1: I do not want to write romance. Not quite sure how I ever decided that I should. I love to read it, will always read it. I do not want to write it. More than that, I’m not good at writing it. And I’m not going to do it anymore. What a HUGE relief.

Apostrophe #2: I am writing a political thriller. I’ve always been afraid to say that because women, with very few exceptions, do not write in that genre. Who was I to think I could do it? So I was dressing it up as a romance or a romantic suspense or a romance thriller or whatever because I had it stuck in my tiny little mind that turning this story into some kind of romance would make it more “acceptable” for me to be writing it. Bob’s critique made me realize that by doing so I was taking a perfectly good idea and ruining it. No more. I’m writing a political thriller. That scares the hell out of me because I’m not sure I have what it takes to do that. But it also makes me unbelievably happy. I’m so excited about this I can’t even describe it.

So it’s back to the drawing, er, writing board for me. I’ve got a lot of work cut out for me and a lot of problems to fix and pages upon pages of bad writing to delete. I can’t wait.

Thank you, Bob.

Note to all of you writers out there: I strongly recommend you sign up to have Bob Mayer make you cry and cast you into the pit of despair. If you are willing to pay attention and want to learn something, your writing will be better for it. And isn’t that the point?

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Wet t-shirts and other hot topics

My upstairs air conditioning unit stopped cooling Friday night. Today is Thursday and it still isn’t cooling. I heard on the news last night that yesterday marked the 69th day this summer the temperature has reached 90 degrees or higher. Second hottest summer on record in these parts.

But we have progress, folks. The A/C repair person finally showed up yesterday and I learned that the problem is a burned out condenser. Or compressor. Whatever. Some long “C” word that means “cooling is no longer taking place.” Upstairs. Where all the bedrooms are located. Where my computer is located. Where I usually spend a good deal of time.

Yes, I am sweating as I write this.

I was hoping for a quick fix — a generous hit of Freon and it’d be good to go. But I began to think there was a more serious problem when the repairman spent almost an hour outside and in the basement, checking things out. My suspicions were confirmed when I let him back into the house and he avoided looking at me and instead made friends with Quincy the Wonder Dog.

I asked, “So, what’s the prognosis?”

He harrumphed and delayed answering by scratching QTWD behind the ears and redirecting the nose aimed at his crotch. “Boy, he sure is a friendly one, ain’t he?”

“Yeah, everyone is his best friend. About the air conditioner . . .”

“I love dogs. Cain’t have one where I stay at now, but I purely do love dogs.”

I briefly considered tucking a Kleenex in the man’s shirt pocket, figuring the resultant impact when QTWD retrieved it would get his attention. Or maybe stop his heart.

I tried again, more loudly. “Were you able to fix the problem?”

“No, ma’am, I sure weren’t. The [insert C word] is shot and needs to be replaced.”

“Oh. That’s bad.”

“Well now, good news is, we can prob’ly get a replacement right quick.”

“Great. That’s wonderful.” I’m reconsidering the whole death-by-Kleenex thing.

“Bad news is, our installation crew is running ’bout a week, week and a half behind. Hot weather, you know.”

Yeah, I know.

He continued with the bad news. “It’ll be middle of next week ‘fore we can get to it.”

I know from past experience that “middle of next week” could come as early as Monday but usually ends up being Friday. I considered asking whether he could just give me a restorative intravenous shot of Freon in the meantime, but decided he probably didn’t have an abundance of appreciation for sarcasm. No need to antagonize him. For all I know, he IS the installation crew. Plus, you know, he really was a nice guy, all things considered. “All things” being that my A/C is STILL NOT COOLING.

So I’ll wait. But I’m hot. And I’ll stay hot for the foreseeable future. I’ll be especially hot at night, when I go to bed. Because I really hate sleeping on the couch. Even though it’s downstairs, where the air is nice and cool. Silly me, I want to sleep in my bed and not wake up with a stiff neck and sore back.

I started thinking of ways I could cool off and get some sleep. I tried remembering times in my life I had felt truly chilled and what had caused it. Problem is, I grew up in Minnesota and half my life was spent feeling chilled. I figured a snowball down the back was not a viable option, nor was walking barefoot on frost-rimed linoleum. The coldest non-winter memory I could come up with was putting on a sopping wet t-shirt over a swimsuit after a day at the lake.

So last night I dug around in various dresser drawers and found an old worn t-shirt my DS22 left behind when he went off to college. Men’s XL soft white cotton. Very good. It had a few holes. Even better. I got out a plastic spray bottle and filled it with cold water. And stripped down to nothing and put the t-shirt on. And sprayed. And shivered. And sprayed some more. And lay down in bed, covers kicked aside, with the ceiling fan going full speed. Oh yes. And slept.

My own impromptu wet t-shirt contest. And nary a judge in sight.

Well, you can’t have everything.

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