Drat! Writers’ Problems

Usually, I pat myself on the back for writing my first drafts in longhand. I fill notebook after notebook. I’m a big fan of cursive and just love the way pen feels as it loops and drags across paper. And my mind operates differently with pen in hand than it does with fingers on my keyboard.

But today, I am cranky because of my longhand habit.

An editor reached out to me about an article. I told her I have the perfect personal essay to suit her needs. All I need to do is find it.

Just in case I’d typed it up already – I suspected I hadn’t but wasn’t entirely sure – I searched my hard drive. Zilch.

I thought, “Maybe I wrote about it in an email to my sister or something,” so I searched my “Sent” box. Nada.

“No problem,” I thought. “I’ll just find the notebook I wrote in last summer.”

I have found lots and lots of notebooks – but not the one I journaled in last summer.

If you hear something while reading this post, it’s probably the sound of my head hitting my desk. Tomorrow I get to dig around some more, and then – if totally desperate – I’ll have to reconstruct the entire incident I want to write about.

Lesson learned: if you want to keep journals and notebooks full of lovely cursive first drafts, organize those journals and notebooks.

Are you a writer? If so, what kind of writers’ problems and failures have you experienced? Feel free to share in comments. I promise to empathize.

In a hurry, but must share the following exciting news!!

So, I’ve got a half-hour to carpool and a ton on my plate, but it occurs to me that I haven’t shared several recent developments in my professional life that are kinda exciting. In no particular order:

  • It’s official. I am copyediting The Jewish Home – L.A. I began the gig a couple months back, but it was a test drive. Apparently, we all found the ride comfortable and think the vehicle can handle both surface streets and freeways. ūüėČ
  • Here’s a link to one of my stories from Passover. It’s the one in The Jewish Press/Olam Yehudi, called “Mom’s Request.” It starts on the bottom of the right-hand page.
  • About two or three months ago , I was interviewed for an article by Simi Horwitz. It’s about women who write and/or edit at Hareidi publications. Simi interviewed several notables, too, like Libi Astaire, Rechy Frankfurter, and Baila Olisdort. The article appeared in The Forward yesterday. Here’s the link to that.

I’d love feedback on any of those happenings!

Most writers procrastinate. But why?

My best friend and fellow writer, Cy, sent me a link to an article in the current Atlantic about why writers are infamous procrastinators.¬†Read it here¬†and tell me what you think. And don’t forget to include the reasons you procrastinate in your comment. Personally, it took a relative taking me aside and disabusing me of the notion that talent is the source of success (or even deserves any praise). But my current biggest barrier to writing is poor time management. I tend to pick distractions or less important writing tasks over the more serious ones.

On Writing About Writing: a guest post by Miriam Hendeles, author of Mazel Tov, It’s a Bubby!

Mazel Tov! It's a Bubby!

Miriam’s Book!

Today’s guest post is from my partner in crime¬†writing, Miriam Hendeles.

What do writers write about? We write about our lives and our families. Some of us write about our struggles and triumphs. Others write about philosophies and opinions; hope and dreams.

We tell stories, and conduct interviews; we compose lists and craft essays.

We even write about “Writing.” Now what is there to tell, conduct, compose and craft about Writing?

So much. We can write about the writing process, solutions to writer’s block, publishing opportunities, strategies for success, online writing techniques, SEO, PLR and myriad other acronyms.¬†Bloggers and gurus craft advice to the masses on how to become the most polished, pithy, and popular Writer. You see, many writers choose to write about Writing, because if we write about Writing, we know we are guaranteed an audience, comprised of the following loyal and faithful readers:

Writers. Wannabe writers. Bloggers. Publishers. Agents. Editors.

But when we do not write about Writing? Then who is our audience?

Random Interested Persons of Non-Writing topic.

For example, Continue reading

Flashes and foraging: where story ideas come from

I was reading this interesting little article a while back about the flashes of inspiration that triggered 10 authors to pen their most classic works. The article really focuses on novels that arose out of a spontaneous image or idea that popped into the author’s head. Perhaps the most dramatic was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s inspiration for 100 Years of Solitude.¬†His sudden insight¬†prompted him to turn his car around and drive his family home to work on his new book instead of continuing towards the beach vacation they’d been headed for.

Now, I recognize that many stories are born that way–bolts of lighting unexpectedly sent from Above, and so on–and it has certainly happened to me before. An editor will select a topic for me to write on (1200-1400 words by next Thursday on this theme, please!) and I’ll sit stumped about how to approach it in some way that isn’t stale and predictable. Hours (or days) later, I’ll try to get back to sleep after someone’s car alarm has gone off and–zing!–HaShem will pop an idea into my brain. (Insert here a sound effect to emphasize the moment.) Sometimes, a detail of a conversation or picture in a book will provoke an entire story to arise almost fully formed from my imagination, with little effort on my part. Yes, this does happen.

Most of the time, however, I forage¬†for ideas. I’ll flip through science news for a new discovery or technology that sounds too impossible to be true. I’ll read three novels all of the same genre or subject, and then compare them. I’ll snip articles out of my HaModia or Mishpacha or Ami. I’ll browse the pages of my journal for wacky things my kids do or things kids fight about, or scribble clusters of words that a topic evokes from my mind.

Once I collect these ideas, they require careful combination. At times the way to do this comes through hard work, strategically arranging plot elements based on the needs of the assignment. Other times, I sit and contemplate them and then let the ideas sorta drift together until something sounds right. I’ll meld a new technology with a situation my children recently dealt with. I’ll transport the subplot from a novel I liked into a fantastic setting, then give it a different ending. Sometimes, after sampling the rough draft, I’ll recognize there’s a missing ingredient and have to hunt around for something that adds just the right flavor. It’s not like there’s no Heavenly assistance involved…it’s just a lot more dramatic, with more input on my part.

In the HaModia Sukkos 5773 story supplement (out today!), you’ll find a piece by yours truly that was generated in just such a way. Discovering that earthbound scientists will likely be exploring new planets via remote-controlled robots, I filed it away for future contemplation. (This isn’t the original article, but it was about the same subject.) After a lot of publicity last winter and spring about how the internet and smart technologies affect human relationships, I revisited the initial idea and found a way to blend the two concepts into an entertaining (I hope!) sci-fi story. I’m hoping the readers enjoy it. It will be my first piece for adults in a magazine with an international circulation!

Silence is golden: how to be a writer without harming others

Shimon, the son of Rabban Gamliel, said:

“I was brought up all my life among the Sages,

and I have found nothing as good for the body as silence…”

                                                                                                   (Pirkei Avot/The Sayings of our Fathers)

Sometimes a punch is less painful than a verbal blow.

Usually, when we hear about the value of silence, we think about what literally comes out of our mouths. According to Jewish law, before speaking, we’re supposed to chose our words carefully, and use them to teach, to learn, to express love and gratitude,¬†to connect with people and with G-d.

However, as we become more conscious of our speech, we discover how often we use our words to accomplish the opposite. How many people have we offended because we mouthed off with the first thing that came to our heads? How often many times have we said something hasty and then wished we could take it back? Are there people who don’t trust us because we let slip their secrets?

If we’re lucky, we learn–like Rabbi Shimon, above–to value the word that is withheld as much or more than the one that is expressed.

Recently, I’ve noticed that sometimes silence can be golden when it comes to writing, too.¬†It’s striking that many writers out there will justify misusing words for “art” or for profit.¬†In the news lately, we’ve seen¬†writers paid to produce reviews of books¬†and others who¬†write college and graduate school essays for a fee. Both are misleading their intended audiences.

I once read a novel that portrayed a beloved historical figure as a murderer. I guess the author thought it was was okay because it was just “fiction,” but the personage has living relatives. If she were living, she could sue, but because she’s dead, there’s nothing to protect her reputation.

And think about all the memoirists who¬†paint vengeful, unflattering one-sided pictures of their nearest and dearest “because it’s the truth.” It might feel great to tell everyone you were mistreated by your drunken father, but how does your sister feel? And what if dad decides to become sober and you patch things up…how will you be able to retract the words you published for all the world to see?

It’s interesting, but in Jewish law, you can say something that could be harmful to a person’s reputation if it is for a constructive purpose–but ONLY if it is for a constructive purpose. If you have even the slightest thought of vengeance when you write a review, or you take the smallest grain of pleasure in describing your neighbor’s foibles, you are not allowed to share them. Imagine if everyone held themselves to that standard.

With the new year approaching (at Rosh HaShanah), I’ve been considering how much a writer has to say…and what shouldn’t be written. Even the non-professional writer has moments wishing they could push “unsend” after sending an email or drop a fishing line into the mailbox in order to retract the angry letter they’d just posted. Let’s hope we all¬†channel beauty and purity into the world through our pens and our keyboards in the coming year.