A Simple Laugh

A friend of mine was discouraged recently about a story she’s been working on for ten years. Partly because of the amount of time (she’s on the fourth revision), but mainly because another writer laughed at her when she heard how long this story has taken.

So many things come to mind.

First, one writer laughing at another over someone’s process. No wonder my friend was discouraged (she said she can’t get that laugh out of her mind). It’s never okay to laugh at the expense of another, but especially when it’s around something that is an intimate part of who a person is. So it hurts.

Second, who cares how long it takes to write something? Some of us are fast, and some of us (myself included) are slow. My friend said she didn’t understand how authors could pump out a book a year. I explained how someone writes a book, then sends it off to an editor, and during the long editing and revising process, they work on something new. Granted, that doesn’t speed my writing up any, but for most it does. By the time book one comes back from editing, book two might be ready to go off to the editor, so there’s a cascade effect. Added to that, some people have a lot of time to write.

badlands 3

How long to write a book? Sometimes as long as it takes to grow in the badlands

Third, and probably most important: we don’t write on our timeline. It comes down to how long that story needs to be inside. How long that story needs to take, to be told. Some need to be like that kettle of cold water on the back burner, slowly coming to a simmer. Some just boil away and pour out.

We write on the story’s time.

I’ve been working on my current one three years. Do I worry about that? Yes, from a marketing standpoint, where I realize I’m ‘away’ from readers too long. But I don’t worry about it from the writer’s standpoint, because this story is taking a lot of time. It’s something new for me so I’m learning as I go, which also adds time. Plus, like I said, I’m just a slow writer. I meander along the story’s path, enjoying the view.

badlands 4

Fourth, some stories die and we might take a long time to realize it. I asked my friend how close she was to the end of this revision. She said she only had a few pages to go. I asked her if other stories were teasing her, waiting to be told, and she said yes. She had several ideas, and when she talked about them, she lit up. You could see the excitement.

So we talked about those manuscripts all writers have, that live forever in a box somewhere. Ones that someday we might go back to and try to revive.

This is her first novel. We talked about how we learn from that first manuscript. How sometimes that first one might go on to become a book or it might not.

I think she left, encouraged to knock out those final few pages. I think about how free she will feel when she’s out from that burden of perceived pressure to finish something. I think about how excited she will be to jump in to something fresh and new. Maybe something not tainted by another’s laughter.

And I think how easily a single word, a single laugh, a single expression, can be so devastating. Because I know the person who laughed, and I know she did not do it to be mean. I know she would be upset with herself if she knew the impact that laugh had.

By the way, I’m so close to finishing my three-year project. I thought I’d written the last chapter but as I finished I knew it wasn’t right, that I’d gone in the wrong direction on that path. And that I’d forgotten to let some characters face their fears.

So I’ll be redoing those last few pages.

Hopefully it won’t take three years.

But if it does, hey, that’s okay.

bridal veil falls

And sometimes the story just pours.

Take Action

I got a scare a couple nights ago. I went into the hallway and saw a silhouette of someone standing outside the living room window. Before I had time to do much more than think ‘ART!!!!’, the front door opened.

And Art came in.


He’d gone out to pet the cat.

He said later that he was lucky I hadn’t met him at the door with my rolling pin.

I was still hyperventilating.

He’s made me a beautiful French rolling pin from black walnut. It’s very heavy. The picture below doesn’t do it justice. The tapers are actually even on both ends and the color doesn’t come across as warm as it really is. And yes, that’s my bear, also made out of black walnut.


Anyway, I was sharing the story with a good friend who is also a recently retired police officer. And he knows Art. So when he got done laughing, he told me this:

‘Action before reaction.’

It took me a minute because my brain immediately went to writing. But basically, don’t wait for something to happen so that your only option is reaction.

In other words, that rolling pin should have gone into action, should have been in my hand when the door opened. Instead of me standing there in my nightgown waiting to see what was coming through the opening door.

Thinking about those words today, I realized the same thing holds true in writing. Action before reaction, scene before sequel. You can’t have the character yell for her husband before she sees the tough guy at the window. You can’t have a character jump before the reader hears the door slam.



And then there’s the way-too-common cliché along the lines of ‘Pulling my pants up, I ran for the door.’ Two forms of action with the nefarious ‘ing’ word thrown in for good measure. Have you ever tried running while pulling pants up?

I know that action/reaction is such a common tool that every writer out there knows about it or has had an editor shake her red pen at them because they reacted to her edit before they saw it. But even though we all know about it, we still too often fall into the trap.

That’s where revision helps, obviously.

But in real life there’s no revision. There’s no time to go back and erase something and rework it.

So. Action before reaction.

Keep that rolling pin handy.

Of course, I also have an antique lead-lined billy club.

And a thing that looks just like a beater’s bat from a quidditch match.

And a couple dogs.

copy of july '10 002


And lots of big rocks on the windowsills.

So next time the husband goes out unannounced to pet the cat on a dark night, I will have a choice of actions.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll just lock the door.


I Remember Her

Fifty years ago this month my young life was in upheaval. A man in the house taking on the role of father. Two teenagers taking on the roles of elder sisters, releasing me from the responsibility of being the oldest. A new house to hold all of us. A new school.

lisa 6th birthday

I remember that time and I remember the stories but I think back now and wonder who she was.

Did I know her?

She wrote behind closed doors. She was painfully shy and blushed beet red and knew she was ugly and didn’t know how to fit in.

Thirty years ago there was another major upheaval. Siblings gone, parents retired, a move to the woods.

Did I know her?

She had a little more confidence but she still wrote in secret, this time by kerosene lantern. She had a clear vision of who she was going to be – an old hermit living alone in the woods with her books and stories and dogs. And when she walked down the narrow track through the overgrown spot in the forest that would be her home, she absolutely knew with a deep certainty that this was where she was meant to be. She spent many hours wandering the woods with field guides.

lisa with white bear & chickens

That rooster – Little Bear – finished his hatching in my bra. Thought I was his mother.

I remember her.

Twenty years ago she was a wife and mother and still living in the woods.

Did I know her?

Her confidence level was higher still because she was held up by those who believed in her. On their wings she found the courage to share those stories that filled her with their reality. She raced out on fire engines and aid cars. She left a job after years to try something completely new. She envied her friends, those strong women she dreamed of emulating. Learning how to be a mother, realizing that she could still be a hermit with two kindred spirits.

lincoln city jan 06 009

I remember her.

I wonder sometimes where those earlier versions went because there are days when they are strangers and the memories seem to belong to someone else.

So, here she is. Do I know her in this moment, as she slips into the robes of, dare I say, becoming a crone? Let’s not. Let’s say instead, becoming a wise woman. Hopefully.

Will I remember her in the years to come?

I’ll remember some stories, and trust those I love to remember more for me.

Maybe some stories will even have endings finally, like that pesky question – who really killed the goldfish by putting pennies in the bowl?

steven consoling me over something i was mad about