Monday, November 24, 2008

Dr. Phil's demographic includes kids?

Every Monday night I take my ten-year-old to basketball practice and I watch drill after drill, bored out of my mind. Last week, a boy plunked down next to me on the bench and leaned his head back against the wall. He wasn't feeling good. I don't know this kid (my son only recently joined this team) so I wouldn't think he'd want to talk to me, let alone initiate a conversation, but he did, and it not only caught me off guard, it made me realize how much kids are exposed to today.

After a few minutes, he said, "You ever watch Dr. Phil?"

"Dr. Phil?"

"Yeah. He's on at four every day."

"No," I said. "I don't usually have TV on at four."

"You should," he insisted, leaning forward. "The guy's amazing!"

I must've given him a skeptical look because he carried on, as enthusiastic as a minister preaching to his congregation. "He, like, talks to people who are all messed up but don't know how badly they're messed up and then he gives them advice and tells them how to fix their marriages or get their families talking to them again or how to stop gambling and get a job so they can get their kids back. Things like that."

"Do you watch it a lot?" I asked.

"Every day," he confirmed.

"You must really like it."

"I do," he said, nodding. "It makes me feel better watching people with a lot of problems in their life, you know? Cause then I see I'm not the only one."

I thought about that all the way home. How watching Dr. Phil seemed to make him feel better about himself, and yet how sad it was that a ten-year-old would habitually make Dr. Phil part of every afternoon vs. climbing a tree or building a fort or laughing along with a more age-appropriate show like Sponge Bob.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A must-have for serious writers

When asked for writing advice, bum glue is the first thing I suggest. I've been there. I get it. I know how easy it is to get distracted, how hard to stay focused, how quickly second-guessing yourself can morph into giving up entirely on what might have been a perfectly good book.

For some, this seems to happen around page fifty (I know a few writers with 4-5 projects on the go, each with approx 50 pages written) while others make it mid-way through the creation of their first draft (around 150-200 pages) before they feel that dreaded.... phfffft!

Like that, gone goes your enthusiasm, your confidence, your creative spark. Recognize this up-down rollercoaster ride? Been there too? If you've ever tried to write a novel, I'm sure you have. It's nothing new. You're not the only one afflicted with this problem and that alone is good news.

Keep in mind, the work, your best work, gets done in the rewriting. Always. Structural issues, character development, dialogue that sings, setting, pacing, dramatic tension, creation of sub-plots that strengthen the main plot -- none of these gets nailed in a first draft.

If I've learned anything over the years it's that I never share the first draft with anyone. Or the second. Matter of fact, these days no one reads it but my agent (who won't see it until it's a strong 3rd draft) and possibly 1 or 2 readers I've cultivated relationships with who can see the big picture and offer advice the way an editor might.

So sit down. Write. And do not move from your chair unless your house is burning down. Even if you write garbage for two hours, that's okay. You can always rewrite it, but at least you're moving your project forward. Here's the other side of the coin: if you allow distraction or procrastination or your penchant for obsessing over that unattainable concept of perfection stop you from writing, you may never get published at all. And wouldn't that be a bummer?!

Bum glue. Don't have any? Get some!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

I'm not heartless, just busy

I love this picture. In many ways it reminds me of my life in the form of a dike with a huge, craggy hole in the middle that I'm constantly stuffing with just-completed and half-completed and must-get-done activities so the dike won't burst if left on its own, creating utter chaos.

Here's my point: I'm having the worst time juggling and prioritizing and making everyone happy these days, especially with my husband away and traveling so much.

That said, last week I received a manuscript in my mailbox, which isn't unusual on its own. I often get unsolicited manuscripts, as other authors do. However, this one belonged to someone I've met a few times, but only vaguely know.

Attached was a card and a gift certificate for dinner. The note said, "This may be presumptive but would you mind reading my novel and giving some feedback? Any at all would be great. No hurry, no pressure. ie., if it were to take you a month, I'd understand. P.S. Either way, enjoy the dinner."

I flipped through the 512 page manuscript and took a long, slow breath. He's being naive, I thought. Naive and sadly misinformed about how little disposable time I have.

Careful not to hurt his feelings, I took the time to respond with a letter. In it, I politely explained that I really would like to help, but I don't have time to read his novel, not this month or next or even into the new year. I explained that I'm a month behind on my own novel. Then I gave him some general advice and a handful of pointers (2 paqes worth), suggested some books that might help him move his novel to a higher level, and attached a sample query letter for when it came time to look for an agent. I also returned the gift certificate.

Yesterday I ran into this guy at the dry cleaners. He was with his wife and after I smiled and said hello, he hurled this comment over his shoulder as they exited: "That's the author I told you about. The one who's too good to help anyone else out now that she's published!"

Words fail me, you know? They honestly do.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

God bless the plumber...

When I saw this sign, I cringed, thinking about all the nightmare jobs plumbers deal with. Maybe it was an omen. I have, after all, had my fair share of tradespeople coming and going these days -- the treadmill repair guy, the furnace man, an electrician who put in an extra panel for me.

Fast forward a week and here I am, with a plumber ripping apart a wall upstairs, looking for a leak that's making its way from the main floor down into our basement.

I feel sorry for tradespeople who work with the public. Honestly, I do. A painter we recently hired told me one woman wouldn't let him use her bathroom, even though she lived 10 mins from the nearest town and he worked at her house for three days straight. "Happens all the time," he said. Last week, the electrician said one guy wouldn't let him use his phone, even though there was no cell service in the area.

I don't understood people who hire someone and then treat them like garbage. What's the logic? Ego? The need to feel powerful and in control? It's demotivating and completely unnecessary, and if I worked for someone who treated me like that, I'm quite sure my mouth would get me fired faster than the job would get done.

Okay, there's my rant for the day. I'm off to offer my plumber a cup of coffee and get back to work on chapter twenty two. Have a good one!

P.S. We had 318 kids show up for Halloween, by the way.