We met for the first time on a weekend in early December 2011. LG Ultrabook was showcased on a laptop pedestal under glimmering lights that accentuated it's stamped titanium chassis. I moved closer. It spoke me in low, husky whisper.
"i5 core, 4 gigs of ram, DDR2, 13.3 inches, ultra-portable."
The geek in me swooned. The writer in me moaned. The accountant in me clutched tightly at my purse strings.
The LG Ultrabook continued. "You can afford it. Treat yourself. You've been a good little writer, tap-tapping on that tiny Idea Pad keyboard. You deserve me."
I went home but LG Ultrabook's voice was in my head. It whispered sweet nothings. "9 second start up time. That's 0nly 9 seconds between start-up and your idea on my screen. It's 13.3 inches. I have a spacious key board."
I began stalking LG Ultrabook where ever it was sold.
"I want you, " I whispered stroking it's stamped titanium one afternoon in Home Plus.
"You're drooling all over the keyboard." A salesman grabbed me by the arm. " Please stop fondling that computer. You're making the other customers uncomfortable."
"I'll buy you." I called over my shoulder as I was escorted of the store. "As soon as your on sale!"
This is a rather funny explanation how I broke my cardinal rule for purchasing electronics. (Always buy the cheapest thing that offers your must have features. Compromise on the rest. Upgrade guilt free in two or three years. ) And it also explains why I was so sad yesterday. Despite a 1000 good reasons to insist on a refund or replacement computer, I was, still am reticent about saying goodbye. I even made a mind map to clarify my thoughts. In the end it came down to stability. It was too prone to shock. It was like a pocket CD player that skipped songs at the slightest jolt. Goodbye LG Ultrabook. I'm sorry that it ended this way.
Amy knew she was late. (Bad)
Never use know unless it can't be avoided. In most cases you can just delete it.
Amy was late. (Better)
Most often after it's deleted the only verb in the sentence is "was." When your characters know you are telling not showing. Telling can be useful. His hair was black. But for the most part, the transition achieved with was, can also be achieved with an active sentence.
Amy raced up the stairs and burst into the office twenty minutes late. (Best)
Know in every form is a weak verb. It doesn't have the same action that "raced" and "burst" have.
Bobby Johnson knew the bully was about to hit him so he ducked.
Even when used in conjunction with a stronger verb such as "ducked" knew is the primary action. It saps the excitement out of a scene. While it should almost never be used, it NEVER belongs in an action sequence. The only way to deal with it in an action sequence is to reorder the ideas. Start with who did the action first. The bully's fist flew at Bobby Johnson. He ducked....
Mike Roberson knew he was going to win the lottery...
Knew is the past tense form of know. But even though it is past tense it makes a prediction which may or may not be true. Thus there is really only one situation in which it really does belong. When your character can predict the future.
Mike Roberson knew he was going to win the lottery a year before he bought the ticket.
But I'm still telling you about Mike, not showing. This is a good example of when you can tell and not show.
This diatribe on "know" was sponsored by Book X. Book X started off fantastic hoowever by chapter ten hardly a paragraph when by without a character knowing something. Sometimes they knew things two and three times a sentence.
I love books. I rarely complain about anything I read and I almost never put a book down. I'm not saying I'm immune to imperfections. Every writer does things I'd rather they didn't but as long as I'm entertained it doesn't matter to me.
However, the characters knew so much that I ceased to be entertained. Reading the story became painful as early as chapter four. I gave up at chapter ten. I just couldn't take one more "know." So please, your character should know anything, but if they must know something, then make sure they don't know much.
Lana and I are sunning ourselves on the beach. A shadow blocks out our sun.
Stranger pointing: We're (insert church name that I've forgotten) giving out free smoothies over there from two to three o'clock.
Woman walks away.
Me to Lana: She was refreshingly not crazy.
Me: Yeah. I have some kind of beacon or something. Crazy religious people come talk me. I've even been approached by a cult more than once.
Lana: Like what?
Me: Well, when I was nine... (I proceed to give her examples past and present. Somehow subject changes to religion and spiritual beliefs.)
Lana: I believe in evolution but my family is Mennonite.
Me: I believe in evolution too, but there's one gigantic flaw. Evolutionists function under the assumption that life was inevitable. That the desire to live and procreate. But look at the Panada. Their sex drive is isn't much different than that of a stone.
Lana: I thought it was loss of habitat.
Me: Some of it is. But even under ideal circumstances they won't stop eating to mate. That they exist at is a miracle.
Lana: Hugh? I guess if you think about it, there's no reason for primordial ooze to have wanted to live.
Me: Exactly. Scientists function on the assumption that life, the desire to have and want it was inevitable. But it wasn't. Of course without it we wouldn't exist to have this conversation. That's a chicken or the egg discussion. I'm only saying that life wasn't a given. That's why scientists can't throw all that goop into a jar and make life happen.
Lana: So maybe that's The Word. Life.
Me: Could be. Could be there are more options that just life an not life. Consider sheep. They've got a normal sex drive but they're suicidal. They find creative ways to kill themselves and some just lay down and die. Why do you think a sheepherder has be with them all the time? It's not just wolves. Pigs are small and goats are small, but even goatherd doesn't carry the same weight as shepard.
Lana: That adds a new dimension to the metaphor of Jesus as a shepard of the human race. So where'd you get that hat? It's super cute.
Me: Thanks. E-mart. You wana get a pedicure?
Lana: You bet.
When my computer crashed it wasn't that big of a deal because I had a hard copy of the data that was lost. Maybe five or six chapters of edits.
The real damage has been to my momentum. It's been like pulling teeth to get going again. Sometimes writing is like that anyway, but I find these days, there's a squealing toddler voice screaming "I don't wanna." This is countered by an adult voice, that says "But you gotta," in much the same way a parent might tell a child to eat their peas because it's good for them.
Momentum can be a hard thing to find, especially after it's lost. This isn't just for writers. Think about all the New Year's resolutions that eventually fetter out. Whether I make it as a writer or not, I firmly that making myself work through the times in life th
These days I have little patience for junk movies and I always check what people say. The actually rating isn't so important as whether people feel a movie is worth the cost of a ticket. There are a few exceptions to this thought. If Denzel Washington is in a movie, I will see it on blind faith. He's one of my favorite actors, so I am biased. But it's more than that. I trust that he turns down bad scripts.
This brings me to my first point. Denzel's career did not start here but at the bottom of the food chain. Contests like America's Top Model are a shortcut to the top of the heap. And you see it every season. The contests, especially those who do well, start to see themselves as Tyra's equal, sometimes even refusing a task. Denzel gets to choose his movies and Tyra got a publishing deal for Model Land (among a gazillion other opportunities) because they have proven themselves. But when they started out, I don't think either of them turned down paying work. They grabbed hold of opportunity and held on for their dear lives. In other words, what you write today may not be what you want to write or pay as much as you like (if at all) but an opportunity, is an opportunity.
Movie companies know that there are x number of people who will flock to see fligh just Denzel is in it. Tyra's publishers took a chance that x number of fans would flock to her book just because she wrote it. But the situations are two very different things. Tyra had never written a book before while Denzel stuck with what I think is his wheelhouse role, a flawed hero in search of redemption. Both choices are admirable for different reasons. (But I think because I'm a writer, I can empathize with Tyra more. Writing a book is like birthing a child. But I digress.)
My second point: Everybody has a wheelhouse and there is nothing wrong with exploiting what you're good at. Certain wheelhouses, such as romance, are not ranked high on the prestigious scale by critics. But hey, critics get paid to judge. The point is, figure out what your wheelhouse is, take advantage of but take risks too. Do things you've never done regardless of what anyone thinks.
How many times did I drop you? How many times did I filling my purse, with you not so neatly tucked inside, onto my bed or couch, or table, only for my purse to thunk to the floor? How many times did I carelessly run you into corners and bus seats. How may Koreans have crashed into me and thus you. In repayment, I decided to replace you. In January I abandoned you for a faster, bigger, and consequently more expensive computer.
At 1.5 million won ( Approximately 1500 US dollars) the LG Ultrabook wooed me with it's sleek design and 9 second start up time. It's not even available in the United States yet. I was cool, the writer with the newest, greatest technology. How vain I was.
It was buggy out of the box, tons of glitches and sometimes it's "smart" programs would restart the computer without warning. I'd be typing along and suddenly I had black screen having been offered no choice to delay this update. But I was infatuated. I stuck you in a box and put that box in the closet.
There you sat with your charger and extra battery. New out of the box you got four hours per, though now you only get about three and a half. LG claims to offer a six hour battery life it's closer to four. As I toted my LG Ultrabook around, I found myself wishing I had an extra battery to shove in my bag like I used to do with you. At the same time, I toyed with ways of getting rid of you. I thought about taking you apart to see what you looked like on the inside. I thought about selling you. I thought about giving you to some to some sticky fingered children to abuse until you finally conked out.
But I wasn't ready to part with you even though I had replaced you. So, when my LG Ultrabook needed to go for repairs, you were still there. The plastic over your hing is busted from so much mistreatment for which you gave to me years of reliable service. I have done nothing but coddle the LG Ultrabook and in repayment, today it erased all my data from its hard drive. All my data is GONE.Well, I backed it up not so long ago, so not everything was lost. But any loss, is too much. In the three or four years that I abused you, never once did you loose my data. Never once did I have to wipe your hard drive and reinstall everything. (Though if I had, you'd probably be a lot faster =)
You are old and you are slow, but you are reliable in a way my LG Ultrabook will never be. I love you.
During my stateside trip, I met up with some old friends. One them is the mother of a pageant queen. I've known both mother and daughter for years. I can remember when Lisa was lanky nine-year-old. This goes back to when I used to be her horse riding instructor and her mother was my hair dresser. It seems like this happened in another life.
Anyway, I know this girl. And if I'm to be honest, I have a rather negative view of beauty contests. Thus, it came as quite a shock to learn that this smart girl I knew has grown up to be a beauty queen. But as we talked, I learned that her major is broadcasting. She really wants to be a news anchor. While I know a lot of pageant queens often end up working in one kind of public speaking job or another, I like many people I know, assumed she got the job because of her looks. It never occurred to me that the woman who participate in pageants might be making a calculated career move. I cannot say exactly how many this is true for, but the little girl who wanted to rider horses and later decided she wanted to be a news anchor, that's exactly what happened. When she gets out of college not only will she have her degree, but a resume` filled with years of public appearances and speaking engagements. People will say it was luck or her beauty when she lands her first job.
I bring this up because, as so often is the case, thinking about this got me to thinking about writing. How many of us have writers have planned and made strategic choices about our career goals as thoroughly as my friend's daughter?
I think as writers we need certain skill sets. Writing certainly, but not only writing our own ideas. How about writing on deadlines. The ability to meet other people's expectations. Public speaking and interacting with strangers. Remembering the names of people you meet. Learning when and how to choose your battles.
I know writers to defend the most mundane things and have been guilty of it myself, but is so important to NOT do that because the day will come when something truly matters to you. If you don't argue over stupid things, you editor, agent, publishing house, will be much more likely to listen to you. But I digress.
My main point here is that even though it often seems like sucessfull writers are three parts luck, on part talent, I doubt that's the really the case. This is another reason why "building your brand" is dumb advice. Scurrying around trying to create a name with no substance is like getting a college degree and expecting that alone to land you a job. Maybe, a long time ago that was true. But when you graduate with 1000 other majors just like yourself, add in all the other universities who have just set x number of graduates out into the job market, you get a lot applicants for a limited number of jobs. Those with resume`s are more likely to land the job. The same is true for writers. There are a lot of "applicants," many of which who write well. So how do you stand out?
1. Write something that blows up overnight. (You cannot will this into reality!)
2. Build a resume`. ( You can make this a reality.)
In other words, ignore preconceived notions about the prestige of something. Don't go around sticking your nose in the air at (insert contest here) or (insert magazine here.) I.E. Novels are better than short stories. Be smart. You want legit writing credits. But don't let your ego keep you from an opportunity to build your resume`.
Jane Doe was a writer. She sat in her office chair, the one with the extra cushion so her butt won't get so sore. The left arm of that chair is extra because she likes to lean lazy on it while she clicks the mouse when play solitaire or doing any of the multitudes the internet has to offer. Liken an writer Jane Doe is great at wasting time. But she's not today. Today she is plugged in to her story. The keyboard makes a gentle and furious tap, tap, tap as her fingers flash across the keys and words, glorious words, seemed to jump on screen. She was so plugged she didn't notice that sometimes her sentences came ou t un fromed.
Outside, the weather was warm. A great day to spend at the beach. Jane's skin was the white pasty color of an author determined to breakthrough and of late her social life was suffering. When her friends called, she said to them , "I'm sorry, I can't. I have to write." At first her friends had been understanding but of late, they didn't always invite her to do things.
By noon Jain had 1500 new words. She took a lunch break and stat down again, reveling in this moment, cherishing. She felt that life often got in the way of her writing. She was also a little high at the moment. Not on pot. No, no. Writers do not need pot. They can get high off the act of putting words on the screen. In this state of euphoria, Jane was certain that the thoughts she poured to her fingers and consequently into the file labeled "My Freekin' Awesome Novel"were best-seller material. People would flock to the stores to read them.
During her break, Jane went online and read some tips about writing and landed on the blog of M.R. Jordan. Written there was her story.Written there was also this:
Print out your story. Print out ten pages, print out twenty pages, print that section that's nagging you. Hell print the whole dame thing out. Put some pages in your bag, purse, pack pack, tote, whatever. Now go to the beach. Go to the mountains. Go somewhere with someone. Get distracted. After you've been properly distracted and then come upon a quiet moment-- you might be in a taxi unexpectedly drunk thanks to lunch that somehow turned into coffee and tea, then dinner and finally bar hopping. Whatever happened, you are now alone and you pull out those ten pages or so and take a red pen to it. Even drunk you notice things you didn't before. But when you're not drunk, looking at the pages this way, you have sudden insights, the kind that used to take hours staring at the blank wall of your apartment. Despite being exhausted, you rush home to put those insights into your file. Then you fell into bed knowing it was a good day, a day that included friends and writing.
After reading this words, Jane went back wasting time on the internet. She was planning to write some more but time kind of got away from her. When her friend called to see if Jane wanted to have dinner together, Jane thought about all the writing she had planned to do but had yet to finish. She almost said "No, I'm writing." Instead she printed out ten pages of a section she was having trouble with and joined her friend for dinner. After she and her friend parted and she was on her way home, she remembered the pages.
That was pointless, she thought as she came to the bus stop. I didn't have any time to look at them. She sat down to wait for the bus, thinking of those papers. Shrugging, she pulled them out and began reading. She saw things, dozens of typos that just jumped out at her. She got up, forgoing the bus for the park around the corner and sat under a tree with her pages. All around her was the murmur of people enjoying a warm evening in the park. Kids laughed and shouted. Bugs buzzed. Leaves rustled. Lovers walked hand in hand, talking close and intimately. Removed from herself, Jane saw her words as others might seem them. She had perspective and because of that, she solved a major plot plot and discovered a logical "inconvenience" large enough to drive a Fifth-wheeler through.
M.R. Jordan is a writer, editor, sporadic blogger, and lover of beer. Lives in South Korea with her two cats, Bear and Geumbi.
Bear (Gom in Korean) then (above) now (below)
Geumbi (Gold in English)... then (above) and now (below).