When I was a teenager, I LOVED buying thrift-store clothes and altering them. (Like everything I did, I did this before it was cool. What can I say? I’m a trend-setter). I was a teen in the age on JNCOs and pointy-toe stiletto boots, and a goth girl, to boot. I had to make due with what I had, but as a result, I had some amazingly cool clothes.
And although my days of wearing cigarette-cut pants trimmed with neon purple boas are over, the ability to tear something down and salvage the good pieces again is really coming in handy on my Work in Progress.
I’ve written almost two full first drafts of a new novel, and both of them are going to be scrapped. The first draft was like a pair of fancy cut-offs: Cut out the pieces with the holes worn through, but embellish what’s left. The second draft, it seems, is going to be more like an old concert shirt, stretched and faded beyond use. Cut out the best part and see if there’s something else you can sew it onto–a tank top, a tote bag, a throw pillow. Make something useful out of scraps.
I carried two bags to school every day. One was my backpack, which was adorned with keychains and patches because it was 2000 and that’s what we did back then, and the other was this awesome white leather messenger bag, the coolness factor of which can never be replicated.
In this messenger bag was everything I needed to write my novel–notebooks, printed pages, pens. I wrote in math class, during study hall, lunch. My whole world was consumed with my writing.
So when I was accepted to the Pen in Hand writer’s conference in Little Falls, I couldn’t believe how fucking lucky I was. Finally, my writing was being taken seriously! For 24 hours, I would be surrounded by other writers. I would get to meet authors and they would talk to me! It was everything I’d hoped for and more. I made friends there that I still have today. It’s where I first drank coffee. It was better than my prom.
I have friends that leave reviews constantly. Liked the restaurant we ate at? Write a review on Yelp. Hated the movie we saw? A full rant is up on Facebook that night.
The phrase “Everyone’s a Critic” has never been truer. Between Amazon and Yelp and, I dunno, MoviePoopShoot, everyone can tell you exactly what they think about everything. Especially when we hate something. Then we cannot shut up about it.
Me, I’m opting out. I am no longer leaving bad reviews.
For me, writing a bad review is bossy. It’s saying, “I’ve decided, in my infinite wisdom, that no one else should like this book/bar/movie/album because it did not please me.” But tastes are subjective, and people have every right in the whole world to enjoy Ready Player One or The Force Awakens, even if I didn’t.
Pretty sure this is the only blog where you’ll find writing tips via ROADHOUSE references
If you really want to piss me off, you can say the following phrase. “Oh, I’m a real writer.” At the very least, I’ll text everyone I know about what a goon you are, or I might sub-tweet you. Maybe I’ll laugh in your face, or maybe I’ll go completely Patrick Swayze and rip your throat out, leaving your corpse on the floor of the coffee shop as a warning to others.
“Real” writers. I heard that phrase a LOT in grad school. I went to a grad program with a commercial fiction as well as a literary fiction program, and there was occasional contention between the two. “Oh, I would never write for the pulps” (Yes, she actually said “pulps.” What is this, 1932? Dial down the gaudy patter, ya loopy dame.) “Oh, I write real fiction, but maybe I’ll write a sci-fi novel sometime!” (like it’s so easy, anyone can just slum it). And it’s not just lit fic people. I heard the “real writer” bullshit from people in my own workshops, who thought they were better that everyone else there because of some arbitrary metric, a goal post only they could kick the ball through.
I love writer swag. Notebooks, fancy pens, tote bags, stickers with book quotes on them. I drool over The Writer‘s monthly Take Note column, listing all the things I could buy to make myself a better writer. If I sling my typewriter tote bag over my shoulder, people will know that I labor over the craft each perfect sentence in my masterpiece. If I wear my NaNoWriMo t-shirt, people will see that I am capable of writing a novel in 30 days. They will see me with my expensive pen and my leather-bound notebook at the coffee shop and murmur, “Yes, there is a real writer, you can tell she is very serious because she has a a scarf with books on it.”
“They didn’t de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit.” Miles (Paul Giamatti) Sideways.
This is my favorite way to describe over-wrought prose. Back in college, writing “leaves and sticks and mice” in the margins was a shorthand among my friends to cool it on the adverbs and get back to the action. Too many writers use miles and miles of description to give their story some semblance of depth, when in reality, the character has spent the first three pages getting dressed. Yes, description is important, but leaves and sticks and mice do not good wine make.
(A variation on this comes via Nick Mamatas, genius; “I’ve seen more first pages ruined by socks and coffee than I care to count.”)
One of the coolest parts about my job as a reporter is that for all the meetings I attend and hard news I write, I also get to do a whole host of feature stories, which means I get to meet a lot of interesting people. And last week, once again, I got to dip into my email and pull up Olympic triathlete Sarah True’s (formally Groff) contact and email her congratulating her on qualifying for the 2016 Summer Games in Rio.
Sarah, like her sister Lauren ( NYT bestselling author of Monsters of Templeton and the forthcoming Fates and Furies) are Cooperstown natives, so whenever they do something awesome — which is seemingly all the time — I get in touch and write a story.
And as I looked through photos of the qualifying race, I thought about what it takes to compete in a triathlon. I ride my bike into town to get coffee, sure, and I can run to catch a bus pulling away from the curb, maybe swim a little in a hotel pool when I’m on vacation, so seeing someone like Sarah kicking ass on the course just blows my mind. And she got there by practicing her butt off, swimming Otsego Lake as a teenager, and getting up every day to ride and run and swim some more. You don’t get to the Olympics twice by playing video games and eating chips all day. Continue reading