Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I won't leave California, reason #134

...the hawthorns which blossom in winter.

Strangely enough, this is also the state flower of Missouri (but good luck finding it there now!).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Meandering in new directions

The first two posts of 2012 were quite different, weren’t they? One was a “word doodle” about the possible unintended consequences of a unisex definition of “actor,” and the other was practical, specific writing advice.

You may see more of the latter this year. I plan to become more of a wisdom broker as I tell stories about how we can act to bring more happiness, satisfaction, and thought to our daily lives. After all, as I wrote in the very first post, I don’t just want to bleat out rants of insignificance.

What is a wisdom broker? A wisdom broker is different from a teacher or a guru. A teacher will show you how to do practical things, such as assemble a shoe or figure out what x means. A guru – in the Western world – gives wisdom but demands loyalty above and beyond his due (yes, this type of guru is almost always a “he”).

The wisdom broker shows you how to love life, but never pretends to stand above you. The wisdom broker shows you the way not just to a better life, but to a happier life. You feel joy after encountering a wisdom broker (whether in person or through a book or recording), not guilt or inadequacy. You come out knowing that yes, you can do it too.

I admire the wisdom brokers – visit this link, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, and this one, for starters.

Why shouldn’t I be one, too?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

The most important writing advice

What do you believe is the most important writing advice?

All of us who are writers have, at the very least, one shelf reserved for writing how-to books. All of us who are writers know that most of these books contain a variant of this advice:

“You’ve got to write every day if you want to call yourself a writer! I mean it – every damn day!”

I agree that it’s important to keep the butt in the chair. Sometimes. But I know something that is even more important than writing every damn day. No, really – I mean it.

It’s called finishing what you start.

Whatever you write – whether it be a book, article, essay, short story, stage play, screenplay, blog post, review, press release, etc. – needs to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Successful writers get this – whether success means writing multi-million dollar blockbusters or being the most-viewed writer on a Twilight fan fiction site.

If you don’t end your work, it’s not going to satisfy the reader – or any middleperson who’s going to show it to the reader. It’s like putting half a bra in the window of Victoria’s Secret. That thing won’t get the job done.

We all have notebooks and/or Word documents filled with pieces of writing – a hastily scribbled plot, a sentence as cool and dainty as salmon sashimi, an essay about an idiosyncratic idea that petered out before concluding. (I have all of these, including a piece called “Respecting Your Bowls.” Yes, it’s exactly what you think it is. And yes, I finished it and put it in this blog.) Some of these are potentially publishable – but only if they are complete. The only writers who can get away with having unfinished work published are dead legends, like Ralph Ellison and the incomplete Three Days Before the Shooting. (Even that book would have been better finished.)

Getting back to those every-damn-day writers, if they don’t outright boast about their fortitude, at least they smirk with Puritan pride at their work ethic. But mere output is not what counts. We shouldn’t write to be an example for other writers. We should write for our readers.

Readers who do not care whether or not you write every damn day.

They are not going to read you because you get up at 6 a.m. and write non-stop until midnight (with a giant-sized bag of Lay’s on your desk and a bedpan under your chair). Readers do not care if you write eight hours a day, four hours a day, an hour, half an hour, or fifteen minutes. They do not care if you write every day, every other day, twice a week, or on Saturday afternoons only. They do not care if you write 1000 words a day, or 250 (the average amount of words on one double-spaced, Courier New font page), or a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word a day.

Readers do care about endings. Your works had better have them.

Just finish what you start, please. If you just can’t pull it off with one idea, toss it and finish another one. But finish.

Once you’ve finished, you’re more than halfway to your readers.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

I don’t think I will ever get used to…

…the word “actor” being applied to females.

It stops me cold every time I see it in print. It just feels weird…like putting the left shoe on the right foot.

I would find it strange if I read the word “aviatrix” or “doctress” in a current newspaper. Why, then, is “actress” so acceptable to me?

Maybe it’s just the word I grew up with.

Years ago, I read a review of a play based on the Delaney sisters’ story – remember them? – in OC Weekly. The reviewer was peeved that the Delaney sisters used the word “colored” instead of newer, more socially acceptable words. Well, “colored” was the word they grew up with – why was that so hard to understand?

I am also concerned about an unintended consequence of “actor” becoming unisex. If anyone can be an “actor,” why not have just two acting categories in awards shows – “Best Actor” and “Best Supporting Actor,” open to both males and females?

Sometimes, there might be more males than females nominated – and, sometimes, the guys would take both awards.

If you are the kind of person who insists that everyone is an “actor,” you will probably not like that scenario very much.

Think about it as movie awards season begins this Sunday (the 15th) with the Golden Globes on NBC.