Dog Ear
Writer's life (DOG ESAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 28 March 2013 00:00

I’m a writer and I stand by that. It’s what I am, from my off-beat views and off-cuff comments to my crazy hair to my lunchtime laptop sessions. Everyone knows I’m a writer (with the possible exception of agents – sigh). But this is what I do, babe.

So it’s not surprising that people take notice of this.

A while back, one of my Indian coworkers asked if I might chat with his son about writing. I was given samples of his school work (which wasn’t bad) and asked to give him suggestions. So we chatted – he was a great kid – and I taught him a couple of tricks. Like reading your work aloud and listening for where it “clunked”. I read him one long washboard sentence and his eyes lit up – “Right there. Yes, I can hear it”. For the rest of the session, he was tossing out the chunks. Since then, he posts me some of his writing drills and I smooth them out (and show him what I’ve altered) but overall I can see the change. His dad’s quite happy.

And then there was the guy who pigeonholed me while I was writing at lunch and asked if I’d review his resume. It was a couple of pages of dense writing but it didn’t need to be that dense. I took the backspace machete to it and cleaned out duplicate wordings and cleared his literary property nicely. In the end, it was tighter and righter, and he was very grateful (and no, I don’t take money for the effort, his thanks were enough (just like the Lone Ranger)).

But that’s part of being a writer (at least a community writer); giving occasional help. It’s like being the guy who knows plumbing or car repair. Nothing major. Just a quick fix. And doing this, just like writing itself, relies on your ability to do it as quick and tight as your own work. If you can show them how quickly you can turn around their project, if you can see it in their eyes, then you’ve passed your own test and turned your own skills. Sure, it’s a half-hour, but they’ll be helped and you’ll be better. Win-win all around.

So the next time someone comes up and asks if you might help them tune up a report, resume, or schoolwork, consider saying yes. You’ll be a better writer for it.

COMING SOON: How to turn down offers to ghost-write the Great American Novel (“I had this idea I wanted to run by you…”).


Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 March 2013 19:14
Backing away (Dog Ear) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 21 March 2013 00:00

If you are a writer, you'll need to learn to deal with defeat.

Right now I'm dealing with it, and its not about writing. There is a corporate 5K that I'm trying to train for, as mentioned in my general blog HERE. I'm really pissed about this. I've followed everyone's advice. I've stretched and paced and breathed and even eaten mustard. I went from being okay (and then hurting myself) to nearly getting back to where I started (and hurting myself). Two days ago, I barely knocked off a mile and my muscle behind my left calf started screaming. Tonight (after a day's rest, more advice) I barely got a quarter mile in before it started hurting again. I walked the whole mile.

I've done everything I could, followed ever scrap of advice, and yet my aging body is letting me down. I just went on a test bike ride (which I've given up for the duration) and I can't even ride - I can feel the tension and don't want to get in the middle of some urban wasteland and really pull it. So I'm stuck in a car for my commute with the rest of the cagers, trying to figure out what to do about the race that is coming up so fast that even if the leg was perfect and it was only a question of building wind, I don't think I'd be ready.

I'm totally disgusted with myself.

In the background, I happened across a small writing contest, more of an informal thing hosted by an artist. I submitted a sharp little piece. And I just found out I didn't win.

That's really the way life works. I'm really pissed at the all-around failures of my recent efforts. Nothing I've worked to achieve has come through.

I'm backing down on a lot of things, hosting my retreat, as A. Dumas would say. I'm going to let my leg heal and get back to biking. And I'm going to turn my back on that contest and focus on writing. In a way, this blog (posted up in prep for Thursday) is a therapeutic little bit of effort, a nice vent that's letting me work through the disappointment of pretty much everything.

Sure, maybe your aging body can't run anymore. And maybe you can't seem to get recognized for writing. But remember that writing is more than getting published. It's about our art and doing what we enjoy. In a way, it's a love letter to ourselves. So when the entire world turns against you, when everything is dismal and wrong, write anyway. Write even if you have the matches right next to the page, and you fully intend to set it alight the moment the last penstroke is done. Write it and fucking burn it.

But write it.

It's our art and our therapy.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 19 March 2013 19:09
Jimmy Allen (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 14 March 2013 00:00

I've got a new passion.

The air adventures of Jimmy Allen...

Someone sent me a link to, a massive collection of just about everything. Here, I found old radio programs, zillions of them. Since a lot of what I do at work takes 4% of my brain, I found myself listening in. Jimmy Allen has become my addiction.

It's the story of a telegraph delivery boy who saves an airliner (how? don't know) from hijacking. For this, he is given a scholarship to flight school where he meets Speed Robertson, an ace pilot and solid mentor.

The stories are interesting. Millions of kids tuned in to hear what was going to happen next. And Robertson, in teaching Jimmy the basics of flight, taught them as well. I was fascinated (with my own pilot's license) to hear the same exercises I learned (i.e. circling a point) taught way back then.

But the most interesting thing is the storytelling. Sure, often Jimmy and Speed don't seem to see the most obvious of plots against them. But often I'd find myself slowing to a stop at work, riveted as Allen fought the control of a crippled ship or orbited above a fog-blanketed Chinese city, his fuel critically low.

The lesson here is that a story is not only visual. Like reading, we are deprived of the images of the action, but also like reading, the story can hold us solid. One must examine the limitations of this medium (that people had to describe to each other what they were seeing ("Look, here comes a car! Who's that in it? Is that...?")) to see how a story can be magnified by its medium. Here, ME-109s scream into the speakers, quivering fear truly quivers, and engines really pokitty-pock-pock when they stop.

Like radio plays, written stories are deprived of vision. However, we have a depth of storytelling (a character's thoughts, a word-choice to influence a mood) in spooling out our tale. Don't try to simply tell the audience what is to be seen. Go deeper than that. Take advantage of the magic of the written word.

BTW, if you are going to listen HERE, start with Episode 1039. It's cleaner, clearer, and more consecutive.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 March 2013 17:59
The perfect place (DOG EAR) PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 07 March 2013 00:00

I used to write at home on my desktop. No distractions. Tuesday and Thursday nights were understood to be mine, with wife and cat silent. Wrote a couple of books like that, including the published Fire and Bronze.

Things change, however. I’ve got too many distractions at home. Also, many nights (now that I cycle to work) I’m rather tired. I’ve also got my best friend’s call on Tuesday nights. Too many interruptions.

But by then, I’d bought a laptop. That opened up a lot of possibilities. I could bring my computer in every day (except the one bike-in day). And I could generally find somewhere to write for an hour at lunch. In this, I surprised myself at learning to be creative in what is usually considered my mental-slow time. I’ve actually trained myself to be creative based on lunchtime. Besides, it beat the usual lunchtime activity, which was listening to coworkers bitch about work.

Still, I wanted to ride more and didn’t want to risk carrying that large laptop with me. But now tinytops (little computers engineered for web surfing, made extinct in short order by tablets) became available. I picked one up, something small enough to ride in the saddle bag, cheap enough that a crash and crush wouldn’t leave me financially crying, yet with a keyboard 90% standard size. I went over to a box store to QuickBrownFox it and found it perfect for my needs.

So now lunch is the creative hour of the day, seated on the Nature’s Table patio, overlooking a lake in the shade of spreading trees. I get out there early enough so the gabbing lawyers we share the building with don’t poach my seat (honestly, it should be reserved, I’m such a fixture). In winter, it can get a might cold. In summer, it could be a bit warm. But it doesn’t matter – as soon as I’m writing, I’m in ancient Assyria or flying through sunny skies with a bevy of crows. It's five hours I can cut each week from the demanding world to work on my next Great American.

Look around for your own spot, a little corner or sunny spot overlooked in your usual routine. You might need to drill yourself to make your creative juices flow on demand, but creativity is somewhat Pavlovian – you can make it work if you try.

And remember, when someone comes out and asks if you are writing, look up from your writing tool, lean back, smile warmly and say “Buzz off.”

Works for me.


Last Updated on Thursday, 07 March 2013 08:01

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