The Writer's Mailbag: Installment 146
Did You Have a Chocolate Egg?
Hey, word association with this boy, you say Easter, I say chocolate! Simple mind, folks!
Of course, you could say just about any word and I’d say chocolate, so I’m not sure there is any significance to this rambling at all.
I hope you all had a wonderful Easter weekend whether you believe (in chocolate) or not. A new week is upon us and that means THE MAIL has arrived.
If you’re ready then so am I!
From Mel: “This might not have much to do with writing, but on the subject of formality in language, lately I have noticed the tendency of radio news broadcasts to use the word "guy," instead of "individual," "suspect," or "perpetrator." For instance - the police caught the "guy" on the second floor with a loaded gun. It is not being used in isolated instances, but regularly and I think deliberately. Is this part of the dumbing down process of American Culture? I am prone to use slang and idiom in my informal writing but it rankles me to hear it in professional news broadcasts. I guess I am just an old fart.”
Mel, I’m going to say this in all seriousness: I’m not sure if it is the “dumbing down” of America or the weakened requirements expected of journalists and broadcasters. I don’t think the training of these broadcast people is as stringent as it once was, and I’m being very serious about that. But I also think broadcast stations must report to the constituents they are stuck with, and I do think there has been a general dumbing down in this country. I doubt it was by design but I do believe it has happened. We have lowered our standards and, as an old teacher, that pisses me off.
Let me give you a personal example. I took my “Urban Farming Coloring Book” to a local nursery and asked the owner if she would like to carry my product. Now mind you I know this woman, have known her for three years, and have done some freelance writing work for her. You know what she said to me? She said her biggest fear was that the text in the coloring book was too advanced for kids.
Stupid is as stupid does!
From Rasma: “When you have an overload of inspiration how can you keep looking at what you have written positively and be your own critic to decide what you will finally post? Hope your week is inspirational Bill.”
Shoot, Rasma, I don’t have much choice, and neither do most writers I know. It costs money to hire an editor, and I don’t have that kind of money . . . so I pretty much have to be my own critic.
All is not lost, though: I know my writing better than anyone alive, and I’m hard on myself on the best of days. If my writing does not “pass muster” I will not publish it, and believe me, “passing my muster” is tough. I expect perfection from myself, so if I publish something I must be feeling pretty good about it.
Hell, my friend, I’m always feeling an overload of inspiration. That’s nothing new for most of us. We do what we can and then move on to the next project.
From Venkatachari M: “Regarding freelancing, most of them want daily submissions which I could not meet at all with my other daily routine of responsibilities. Whenever I quote that I can submit only 3 articles in a whole week, they keep silent. Do you have any advice?”
The sad truth about content sites is this, Venkatachari M: the playing field isn’t level and most freelancers will get the short end of the proverbial straw. There is a glut of freelance writers out there, and that means if you won’t do as the companies want, it is no problem to find two-hundred other writers who will provide.
My suggestion is to skip the middle man, and that middle man is the content mill. Go find freelance jobs on your own and don’t use sites like Textbroker. It might be harder to secure a job, but you’ll make more money doing it that way, and you’ll work as often as you want to work.
Two for the Price of One
From Zulma: “With regard to being an actor, I do the same thing, Bill. Which got me to thinking: How accurate can we be when we are not our characters? For example, if you're acting as a serial killer, how can we manage this when we didn't have the same upbringing or possess the same brain chemistry as a killer. Also, how much of ourselves are bringing to the character?”
Only a writer could ask those two questions, and great questions they are, Zulma!
Well, my friend, I know a little something about serial killers, so I’ll use them as examples in my answer.
No, I’m not a serial killer (big sigh of relief), but I have done extensive research on them. I’ve been fascinated by them since I learned that our paperboy when I was growing up was Ted Bundy. I’ve read books on him, read countless articles, and watched films about him, and the one overriding impression I came away with is that serial killers do not feel emotions like the rest of us do. They are totally detached from their actions and their victims. Dismembering a body is no different to them than stepping on an ant. The other thing I took from all that research is that many of them appear to be normal. They are consummate actors, playing the part of a normal citizen. Their lives are scripted. They watch normal people and parrot what they see, which makes them very, very hard to detect.
So I’ve tried to use that knowledge when writing.
As for your second question, I think it is unavoidable that a part of us will appear in our characters . . . at least it seems to me to be unavoidable, and I don’t feel that is a bad thing. It is our own personal stamp on our books, part of our “voice,” part of our uniqueness. It’s all a jumbled mess when trying to dissect it all, and I’m not real good at that kind of introspection, but my feeling is that yes, we bring at least a portion of who we are into the creation of our characters.
Sweating the Small Stuff
Also from Zulma: “Since you mention it, just how do you do your revisions? Do you take it one chapter and a time and keep notes? How do you keep track of minutiae such as weather, dates, and minor characters who cross paths with the major players? Yes, I'm the sort of geek who sweats the small stuff. :)”
Congratulations, Zulma, you just hit my weak spot! Bullseye, my friend!
I’m horrible at this and it is all my fault. All I would have to do is make a timeline as I write the first draft, but I get into the writing so deeply that I invariably forget about the timeline. Since I am currently working on my sixth novel, I think it’s safe to assume I’m a slow-learner. Thank the gods I’m smart enough to do three or four drafts of every novel, so by the end of the whole process, I’ve pretty much cleaned up the minutiae. The hard part is jumping back and forth trying to find out what the weather was like that morning, or who said what earlier on, or where did they visit when they found the clue. I’m constantly jumping around trying to find a particular piece of dialogue so I can confirm something else. It is about the worst possible way to organize a novel and I’ve now done it five times and working on six.
I never claimed to be smart!
SUPER QUESTIONS THIS WEEK
But that’s no surprise . . . I find my followers to be insightful and scary smart!
I hope you found something in the Mailbag that made your visit worthwhile. Have a great week of writing, and living, and I’ll see you all next Monday.
2017 William D. Holland (aka billybuc)
“Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”